Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market. (31638)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The equity firm controlled by billionaire Ron Burkle announced today it is buying Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market from U.K.-based Tesco, but terms of the deal were not released.

The deal, in which Yucaipa Cos. will assume the Fresh & Easy’s debt, is expected to be completed in about three months.

“Fresh & Easy is a tremendous foundation,” Burkle said. “Tesco should be applauded for giving their customers an affordable, healthy, convenient shopping experience. Its dedicated employees and great base of customers give us a solid starting point to complete Tesco’s vision with some changes that we think will make it even more relevant to today’s consumer. We plan on continuing to build Fresh & Easy into a “next-generation convenience retail experience,” providing busy consumers with more local and healthy access for their daily needs.”

Yucaipa Cos., founded in 1986, has used leveraged buyouts to acquire majority positions in grocery store chains such as Ralphs and Kroger. More recently, Yucaipa Cos. bought a stake in The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. and Barney’s New York.

Philip Clarke, Tesco’s chief executive, said the sale was the best for Tesco shareholders and Fresh & Easy’s stakeholders.

“It offers us an orderly and efficient exit from the US market, while protecting the jobs of more than 4,000 colleagues at Fresh & Easy,” he said.

About 50 of Fresh & Easy’s 200 stores nationwide will close, company spokesman Brendon Wonnacott said.

Fresh & Easy, which targeted California and the Southwest when it entered the U.S. market in 2007, has about 200 stores nationwide and a distribution hub in Riverside, but it has steadily lost money.

Wonnacott said it was too early to know which stores would close. Some employees would be laid off, he said, but most of the 4,000 Fresh & Easy’s employees would keep their jobs under Yucaipa’s ownership. Fresh & Easy’s U.S. headquarters are in  El Segundo.

Tesco is the No. 3 retailer worldwide in terms of sales, behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Carrefour SA.