Monday, August 28, 2017

Return to Wegmans

Wegmans turns grocery shopping into a theme park experience.

We are back in central New York, actually Erie Pennsylvania, had a chance to visit Wegmans once again.  If you get a chance to go to Wegmans you should go, as it is really an experience.  On the same note, if you get a chance to go to Disney World, you should go there too, as it is a lot of fun.  This does not mean, however that you should live at Disney World, only visit it at least once in your lifetime.

And the same is true for Wegmans.  It's an interesting grocery store although it is not really a grocery store the traditional sense, as they really don't sell groceries, but instead the idea of groceries.  I'm not taking a piss on Wegmans here, they are doing the same thing that Whole Foods and a host of other stores are doing, namely going where the market leads them.  And the market is leading them toward a lot of money in selling prepared meals.

I wrote earlier about Wegmans, and their serpentine track method of steering customers through the store.  When you first come in, you are directed to the produce area and then threw the vegan, and gluten-free, and organic food areas.  The "real food" area is only later in the store and you only reach that after you've already bought a package of $15 gluten-free potato chips.

The big thing they're doing though is prepared meals.  As we are walking through the store, helpful clerks are presenting free samples a prepared foods that you could take home for the attractive price of $10 per entree.   For example, they had a fish entree that came in a metal pan complete with vegetables and teriyaki sauce.  All you had to do, the man offering the sample suggested, was placed the package into an oven at 350 and wait 20 minutes and you have dinner.  He confessed to me that "I really don't know how to cook" which maybe wonder why he was wearing a chef's toque.

If $10 per entree sounds familiar, it is the same price that Blue Apron uses for their entrees mailed to your home.  It seems to be the price point that the grocery stores are moving towards.  Again, it's not that the food is bad or anything only that it is very much overpriced.  You can go to the store, even within Wegmans and buy the same food items by the package and assemble these meals yourself for far less.  If you want across the street to Price Chopper or Walmart, you could probably assemble the same food items for one quarter of the cost.

The grocery industry is moving to where the money is, and you can't blame for doing that.  They are finding that consumers want convenience over all else and also they want to be perceived as being gourmands or special - it is a status thing, once again.  So if you can sell them an upscale food item people will buy it, because they want to be perceived as being better than average and unique. People are also lazy and they don't want to spend a lot of time preparing their own food.

The good news is, there are still grocery stores that sell groceries these days and you can buy packaged items and cut them up yourself and prepare them, rather than having somebody else cut them and place them into a pan ready for reheating. It is a personal choice you can make, whether your time is so valuable that you can't spend five or ten minutes preparing a meal and paying somebody else to do it.

What we found nice about Wegmans was they had a lot of unusual food items that are hard to find in more mainline grocery stores.  Thus, if you go to a place like Wegmans or Whole Foods, be sure to shop for unique and unusual items that you can't find a you everyday food store.  There's no point in buying paper towels or soap at a place like this when you can buy that sort of thing at the Dollar Tree for a lot less.

Although, I thought it was funny that Wegmans, in the section that normally held a beer and wine, had a huge "warehouse" section selling pallets of diapers and paper towels and whatnot at "wholesale prices."  It was not very busy and I suspect they will tear that section out for more meal kit promotions.  But clearly they knew that consumers were aware of shopping clubs and we're trying to compete at that level as well. It was a bit of irony here, as they were trying to do the wholesale club thing as sort of a mock-up in one corner of the store, and at the other end of the store they were trying to do a Whole Foods thing with outrageous prices and trendy prepared meals.

If you do decide to go to Wegmans, go there after lunch.  They do have a restaurant there that sells food in a buffet bar and charges by the pound.  Unfortunately, by the time you fill up your clamshell with food and take it to the checkout counter to be weighed, you will find who bought $15 worth of lunch which is a bit excessive.  They're counting on the fact that most people are too embarrassed to walk away or try to put food back.

Wegmans is slowly spreading across the East Coast United States recently opening stores in Maryland and I am told one in DC and Virginia, working their Way South.  They are astutely concentrating on areas where there people with high incomes were willing to spend extra money on groceries, or more money than they need to spend.

Like I said, if you have a chance to go do it. It's a fun experience and a great thing to do once in awhile, but just like Disneyland you don't want to live there full-time.