(UPDATED COVERAGE Feb. 13) Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets will make their debut in the Sacramento, Calif., area with the opening of five stores in March.

Two stores open March 7 in the state’s capital city: Mack Road at Franklin Boulevard, and Watt Avenue at El Camino Avenue, spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said.

On March 14, stores will open in nearby cities: Lincoln at Sterling Parkway; Elk Grove at Calvine Road; and Folsom at Natoma Street.

Fresh & Easy, El Segundo, Calif., is a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based Tesco PLC. The company is inviting shoppers at each location to nominate a local nonprofit for a $1,000 donation. Charities can be recommended here.

In 2008, Fresh & Easy had plans to open more than 20 stores in Sacramento. The economic downturn put that on hold, but the company still plans to expand there.

“These are just the first five,” Wonnacott said.

Five more stores — four in California, one in Las Vegas — are also scheduled to open in March. California sites include Chula Vista, Los Angeles, Antioch and San Jose. Then in April, the company plans to open two more in Los Angeles.

The company, which started up in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada in 2007, now has more than 180 stores.

During the first quarter, it closed 12 stores in the three states — while retaining the leases — but had plans to open 25 more.

“We’re opening a lot of stores at once,” Wonnacott said. “Opening about 25 in three months is always ambitious, but at the same time it’s a great chance to introduce ourselves into more neighborhoods, especially when we expand into a new market like Sacramento.”

The five Sacramento-area stores will employ more than 100, according to Fresh & Easy.

A Fresh & Easy Express market was slated to open Feb. 15 near the University of Southern California campus at Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard in Los Angeles. Express stores are about 3,000 square feet; a full-size store is 10,000 square feet.

The chain touts its fresh ingredients and ready-to-cook meals; its avoidance of artificial colors and flavor, high-fructose corn syrup and added trans fats; and its energy conservation measures.