When Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market opened its doors Wednesday morning, customers, dignitaries and employees were joined by another group -- protestors.

The grocery store, at the corner of Main Street and Topaz Avenue, is the first store in the Victor Valley for Tesco, the United Kingdom's largest retailer. Fresh & Easy groceries are set up differently than the five Hesperia already boasts (and the Super Target opening on October 12). The new store is only 13,900 square feet, just over half the size of the city's Stater Brothers grocery stores. About 45 percent of the products on store shelves are the Fresh & Easy store brand, featuring no artificial flavors and colors, no trans-fats and few preservatives

The protestors, at least some of whom were members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, distributed flyers attacking Tesco's track record.

"Tesco has illegally altered use-by dates on products, sold moldy and out-of-date food, and even sold food labeled as organic with high level pesticides," the flyers read in part.

"We stand by our commitment to our customers and to our employees, of course," said company spokesman Brendan Wonnacott. "And as for the instances that they refer to, they're all isolated incidents in the UK."

The protestors did not appear to deter customers on Wednesday; the Topaz Avenue store was packed after opening.

"Obviously, customers are speaking with their wallets," Wonnacott said.

Tesco plans to open approximately 200 supermarkets in Southern California by February 2009. A location in Apple Valley on Apple Valley Road and Yucca Loma Road and in Victorville on El Evado Road and Palmdale Road are planned. Fresh & Easy locations will be opening in San Diego and Los Angeles next week.

"Last month alone, we received 10,000 applications for employment," Wonnacott said, "So we're obviously a great place to work as well."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.