Wegmans Food Markets has revolutionized the term “grocery store”. Gone are the days when most grocery stores look and feel the same. Although Wegmans was founded in 1916, it seems that Wegmans has really just started taking off since 1993 when the first of many stores were opened outside of New York state. This business that started as a fruit and vegetable cart has evolved into a mega-store, and it now sets the standard for pleasant shopping and dining experiences. Wegmans is one of the largest privately held companies in the United States and has raised the industry standards through its phenomenal product quality, plethora of options, top notch prepared food, and impeccable customer service. Since its launch, this family-owned grocery chain has been a model for ethical business operations while earning impressive profits. The company has balanced the importance of these two and has become a seemingly model company for how to go about doing business.
In 1916, John Wegman opened a fruit and vegetable cart and called it the Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Company. Since that time, Wegmans has been a first-mover in many instances. By 1931, Wegmans stores include meats, produce, groceries, dairy, and baked goods. The next year, Wegmans becomes the first grocery store to introduce refrigerated display windows and vaporized water sprays to keep produce products fresh. Less than a decade later, Wegmans is the first store to offer frozen foods to consumers. After that, the East Rochester Wegmans store is one of the first to utilize laser scanning to read codes printed on products. Starting in 1979, Wegmans creates it own brand to sell in stores, usually for cheaper than the brand names consumers recognize. Starting in the 1980s, Wegmans became increasingly innovative in its programming: Wegmans created a scholarship program, work-scholarship connection, shoppers club electronic discount program, strive for five program, and “Food You Feel Good About” program. It appears that all of the hard work pays off. As of 2013, Wegmans has been recognized as Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” sixteen times, and Wegmans has been in the top five of that list for nine of those years. That’s not all. Wegmans also was recently ranked number one in a Consumer Reports survey on the country’s favorite grocery chains. (Perman 1) Last, but certainly not least, Wegmans has been recognized as one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by Ethisphere Institute. Clearly, Wegmans is doing something right.
Ever since founding the grocery chain, the Wegmans family has believed, “[…] that good people, working toward a common goal, can accomplish anything they set out to do,” (Wegmans Company Overview). Day after day, Wegmans employees strive to live up to the company motto: “Every Day You Get Our Best”. What sets Wegmans apart from its competitors and other companies in general is how much they care about people and the community. Wegmans is a phenomenal example of a stakeholder-focused company. Its top priorities are its customers and employees, not just making money. It seems that this family-owned grocery company views its employees and customers as parts of its extended family and treats them all that way. Since its founding, Wegmans has created many departments to satisfy just about any customers’ needs. These departments include: Market Cafes, Ready-to-Cook meals, Bakery, Patisserie, Deli & Cheese Shop, Nature’s Marketplace, Food from Around the World, Pharmacy, Complements, Floral Shop, Greeting Cards, Gift Shop, Cosmetics, Bath and Body, Wkids Fun Centers. While many of these are staples at other grocery stores, Wegmans has gone the extra mile with its selection in those departments and has raised the bar with unique ones like Patisserie (a French pastry shop) and Wkids Fun Centers (babysitting children ages 3-8 while parents get shopping done). Customer service at Wegmans is also clearly a well-known edge the company has on the industry. I read all about the attentive employees and “nearly telepathic level of customer service” in many articles I came across. (Wegmans Company Overview) As I looked into this exemplary customer service, I found Wegmans’ very own Youtube Channel. On this channel were many interesting videos that featured its own employees who discussed their Wegmans working experience. The first video I watched was called “Wegmans Company Culture”. In this video, store manager Kevin Lang said, “If you are very good at taking care of employees and are concerned about their well being not only at work but at home, and you’re concerned about how much they know about what they are doing at work, how much they enjoy coming to work, they’re going to take that and they’re going to turn that around and be concerned about how they serve customers.” Here’s a company that truly understands the importance of employee morale.
In another video, “Making a Difference—A Wegmans Who We Are Value”, Susan McAndrews explains that she is so happy to “work for a company that absolutely supports what [she wants] to do and also gives [her] the resources that [she needs] to do that and do that efficiently.” Kevin Young explains, in another video, “Caring—A Wegmans Who We Are Value”, that Wegmans supported his goal of going back to school for a bachelor’s degree and allowed him to have a flexible working schedule while doing so. Wegmans offers its employees great benefits and even an employee scholarship program. The company also helps its employees learn about their own departments outside of the stores. “It sends butchers to Colorado, Uruguay and Argentina to learn about beef. It sends deli managers to Wisconsin, Italy, Germany and France to learn about cheese,” (Rhode 1). Since the program was launched in 1984, Wegmans has covered more than $85 million in tuition expenses. (Wegmans Company Overview). Finally, Marie Panara describes one of the highlights of her work experience in the video, “High Standards—A Wegmans Who We Are Value”.
One day at work, Danny Wegman was walking through the store and talking to customers and employees alike; he came over to Panara, shook her hand, and said that he is so happy she is with the company. This brief interaction between Danny Wegman and Maria Panara is a great example of Kant’s theory in action. “Always treat the humanity in a person as an end, and never as a means merely,” (Bowie 4). By making each member of the Wegmans team feel special and wanted, the employees are happy to come to work and help customers with anything they need. There’s probably no better moment than hearing one of the founders of the company tell you how happy he is to have you working with him.
Over the years, Wegmans has become increasingly well-known for its charitable donations and community service initiatives. In 2012, Wegmans donated 16 million pounds of food to food banks in the US. As stated on its company overview page, Wegmans focuses its “commitment to the community” in five areas:
- Food for the needy
- Strengthening neighborhoods
- Helping young people succeed
- Healthy eating and activity
- Support for the United Way as an effective way to fund programs that make a difference.
(Wegmans Company Overview)
After reading about Wegmans’ business practices and its care for people and the community, I started thinking about Donaldson and Hartman. In Hartman’s article, “Donaldson on Rights and Corporate Obligations”, he explains Donaldson’s three duties that every company should fulfill.
“1. The duty to avoid depriving people of their rights
2. The duty to help protect people from such deprivation
3. The duty to aid those who are deprived” (Hartmann 163).
Later, Hartmann adds his own “fourth duty” to the list, “avoiding helping to deprive”. (Hartman 165).
As I stated previously, Wegmans focuses on the people first. I think the second, third, and fourth duties are most applicable to Wegmans’ case. Each year, Wegmans helps millions of people by providing food to people who are starving. The company also provides millions of dollars in scholarship funds to those that can’t afford a college education. Also, Wegmans created the Work-Scholarship Connection in Rochester, NY to help at-risk children. The purpose of this program is to decrease the dropout rate in the district and teach the 2,300 middle school and high school participants the skills to work.
The Wegmans Love Affair
As I was researching, I often thought about the simple question, “What do people love so much about Wegmans?” I tried to ignore my love of Wegmans in reasoning through this. I was extremely excited when I came across a press release from 2004 entitled “Love Letters to Wegmans”. Fun fact: approximately 5,800 people took the time to send a love letter to Wegmans, and the press release included quotes from a selection of these. I read on to find out why people loved Wegmans and came across a variety of reasons including product selection, store aesthetics, top-notch produce, great service and staff, low prices, the olive bar, the sushi bar, signs for hearing impaired people at ordering counters, encouraging customers to cook and try new things, and making a chore into a pleasant experience. Not only did I find “love letters to Wegmans”, but I also found other articles with love in the title. One was entitled, “A Love Affair with Wegmans Begins”, written by someone after being swept off his or her feet after a first-time Wegmans shopping experience (Anderson). In another article, “Brand Love for Wegmans: Nice Beat, You Can Dance to It”, Cindy Perman described the scene outside the first Massachusetts store just before opening. She explains that there were approximately 2000 people in line by 7:00 am, and while people were waiting, a “Wegmans: The Musical” was born. “The musical is about two brothers: One’s a manager at Wegmans and the other works a manager at Acme Food Store. The one who works at Acme sends a spy to sabotage the Wegmans store. The spy winds up falling in love with Wegmans — and a Wegmans employee! Hilarity ensues,” (Perman 1).
Wegmans: Do They Ever Mess Up?
After learning about all of the things that Wegmans does right, you are probably wondering if I found a crisis or piece of negative press in my research. It took a while to find, but I finally came across something. In February 2013, Wegmans issued two massive recalls on its flour and wheat products. Thankfully, the problem was discovered relatively quickly. The wheat products (hot dog buns, hamburger buns, sandwich bread, and pita) were sold between February 1st and February 15th, and the recall was announced on February 16th. The flour recall was made after just about two months of sales, but there were no injuries or illnesses reported as a result of the product. How were these problems handled? Customers could return products to stores for full refunds. Of all the issues a company could face, this is not the biggest deal in the world. On top of that, Wegmans tackled the issue head on by recognizing the issue, announcing the recall, and giving its customers all refunds. I was pretty happy that this is the only “issue” that I could find. Clearly, Wegmans is doing something right. Scratch that. Wegmans is doing many things right.
Just last year, Wegmans received about 5200 requests to build a store in various communities along with 7,600 other letters from customers simply explaining how much they love shopping at Wegmans for various personal reasons. Since 1916, the company has had quite a journey, and it is now known as one of the most ethical companies in the United States and one of the best places to work. As Neil Stern wrote in a 1994 Wall Street Journal cover story about Wegmans, “We consider them the best chain in the country, maybe in the world” (Wegmans Company Overview). As a loyal fan, I would never dispute this.
Anderson, Tania. “A Love Affair With Wegmans Begins – Shop To It.” A Love Affair With Wegmans Begins – Shop To It. Washington Post, 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 06 Apr. 2013. <http://voices.washingtonpost.com/shoptoit/2008/11/dear_wegmans_a_crazy_thing.html>.
Bowie, Norman. “A Kantian Approach to Business Ethics”. 3 April 2013.
Company Overview. Wegmans, n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?storeId=10052&identifier=CATEGORY_2441>.
DeCanio, Lisa. “”I Love Wegmans” â“ Reactions to the Grocery Giant’s First Massachusetts Store Opening [Storify].” BostInno. N.p., 17 Oct. 2011. Web. 07 Apr. 2013. <http://bostinno.streetwise.co/2011/10/17/%E2%80%9Ci-love-wegmans%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-reactions-to-the-grocery-giant%E2%80%99s-first-massachusetts-store-opening-storify/>.
Hartman, Edwin. “Donaldson on Rights and Corporate Obligations”. 3 April 2013.
History-Wegmans. Wegmans, n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?storeId=10052&identifier=CATEGORY_1381>.
Natale, Jo, and Jennifer Mitchell. “Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. Named to Ethisphere’s 2012 World’s Most Ethical Companies List.” Wegmans. N.p., 16 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10052&catalogId=10002&productId=737863>.
Natale, Jo, Theresa Jackson, and Evelyn Carter. “15th Consecutive Year: FORTUNE Places Wegmans on ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ List, Ranking #4.” Wegmans.com. Wegmans, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10052&catalogId=10002&productId=734552>.
Natale, Jo. “Love Letters to Wegmans.” Wegmans.com. Wegmans, 16 July 2004. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/PressReleaseDetailView?langId=-1&storeId=10052&productId=399502&catalogId=1>.
Perman, Cindy. “Brand Love for Wegmans: Nice Beat, You Can Dance to It.” CNBC.com. CNBC, 4 May 2012. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <http://www.cnbc.com/id/47298199>.
Rhode, David. “The Anti-Walmart: The Secret Sauce of Wegmans Is People.” The Atlantic. N.p., 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/03/the-anti-walmart-the-secret-sauce-of-wegmans-is-people/254994/>.
Smith, Jacquelyn. “The World’s Most Ethical Companies.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 15 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2013. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/03/15/the-worlds-most-ethical-companies/>.
“Wegmans Food Markets.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/user/wegmansfoodmarkets>.