Supermarket Socialism: How Wegman’s Is Moving Toward a Predominantly Wegman’s Brand Store and Turning Customers OFF

Posted on October 25, 2011

SamHenry’s native home is Rochester, NY in western New York.  And proud I am (or once was) that it was also the birthplace of “the yellow box,” Kodak; Xerox; Gannett, Bausch and Lomb, Ritter, and Wegman’s.

Wegman’s was where you LIVED.  It was like Christmas every day with shelves creaking with products from all over the world and the US.  It reminded me of the gourmet grocery at the now defunct department store, Sibley’s.  My grandfather had started that department and so I know a bit about groceries.  First I do know that it was wildly popular.  When the store was sold to Associated Dry Goods it remained but when it was resold to the May Company it got the ax and clothing went into the space.  Every square inch of floor space and its productivity was measured and worked to the max.  But people went around saddened by this loss to our local culture really.  Some store brands and that bakery – tastes lost forever.

It was so reassuring when Wegmans Food Stores began to offer some of the world-famous food items on their shelves.  At their local flagship store, they even had a separate area for imported foods.  But slowly since the death of the grandfather, Danny Wegman and now his daughters who succeeded him have moved to another strategy: Making the Wegmans brand uber alles in that store.

Initially we all thought that it would be limited to canned goods.  But then there was product creep to EVERY department of the store and even into the health food section.  In their bread section all competing brands were summarily dumped until customers complained loudly. They dumped competing milk brands until there was an uproar.  Wise potato chips got the boot but were brought back.

There are some foods for which I will save and buy – Keller & Son’s Dundee Orange Marmalade for instance.  It is pretty much a staple to much of the middle class but no more. You either have to shop the other markets of take to the internet.

When you write to the consumer affairs department at the store, more often than not you get a response that they need to try new brands and make room for them.  They point to the fact that it would be difficult to determine which ones to bring back unless a large group wants backs a particular product.  Even then, if it does not turnover as they would want, it will be out again.  They “enforce” their brand via their quarterly slick magazine “Menu.”  They test foods and recipes at their restaurant “Tastings” (it may have a different name at this writing).

People who used to live in Rochester and have had the Wegman’s experience get really excited when they see that one of the stores is coming to a location near them.  And Wegman’s for its part opens only a few of them each year to keep quality up.  They also send teams from Rochester to operate and train personnel for a month or more.  But it is not your parent’s Wegman’s.  It is a changed place.

As our country becomes one in which medical care is slowly flattening out into fewer choices, car brands are dying and economic necessity has put many of the more expensive restaurants out of business, it was an oasis to be able to have lunch at Wegmans and then do leisurely shopping reading labels from all over the globe.  No more.  The sameness of the offerings only serves to remind us that we are now victims of, well, supermarket socialism.

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