I’ll never forget overhearing a conversation in my high school French class.
Student 1: “Hey, wanna go hang out at Wegmans after school?”
Student 2: “What’s that?”
Student 1: “Cool new grocery store.”
Now, these weren’t particularly strange students, meaning they weren’t the type to hang out at grocery stores for fun. So there had to be more to this ‘Wegmans’ than the description “grocery store” implied. I remember jotting down the name in my notebook and making a point to go check it out later that week.
From my first wide-eyed, jaw-dropped visit up until today, I have loved Wegmans. Truly, I think no grocery store in the nation, or even the world, compares. Many argue that they are expensive, but I disagree. While their specialty products and imported cheeses are a bit on the pricey side, the typical household staples are the same price or cheaper than they are at other grocers. Bags of baby carrots are always 99 cents, and I’ve never seen them cheaper than $1.29 at Giant, even on sale (side note: you know you’re a grown-up when you can give baby carrot price comparisons). I think people want to believe that it’s more expensive because it looks like it should be – the atmosphere is more beautiful, the store’s artwork is… well, artwork, and they actually make grammatically correct signs. I still smile every time I see the “15 items or fewer” line rather than the horrendously offensive (to an English major, anyway) “15 items or less” line. Employees are friendly. You know how I know? Because I used to be one! Yes, many years ago I worked as a barista at the coffee bar in the Lower Nazareth store, and I absolutely loved it. They really do treat their employees like gold and they pay well for a grocery store, which is partly (or mostly?) why most employees are so darn helpful and genuinely happy to be there. They know they’re appreciated, so they treat customers well. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all employers were like this?
I have one very big complaint, and it’s only recently that I started to notice its pervasiveness. It began years ago, when I was still working there. My mom asked me to bring home an Entenmann’s coffee cake for some guests that she had over. I went to look, but quickly realized the store didn’t carry Entenmann’s products. Not a single one of them. I left perplexed and brought home a Wegmans store brand cake instead.
Next there was the turkey incident. Since I regularly switch between Giant and Wegmans for my weekly shopping, I ordered at the deli counter without thinking, requesting “One pound of Boar’s Head turkey, please.” The deli counter person looked at me strangely. “We don’t carry Boar’s Head, we never have,” she said. So once again, I was forced to opt for the store brand. On that same trip, I headed over to the pickle section for my Claussen dill sandwich slices. I found Claussen bread & butter (ew), gigantic Claussen spears (seriously?) and in the spot where my sandwich slices belonged, the Wegmans store brand dill slices in a similar looking jar. That’s when I started to wonder.
It seems that the Wegmans philosophy is that if a brand or product is too delicious, they must refuse to carry it and offer their own store brand as the only alternative. As a girl who often buys store brand products when they are cheaper than name brands, I feel indignant about this. I mean, we can all agree that Wegmans brand items are fabulous. Their cakes? To die for. Some are better than Entenmann’s. Their pickles? Not quite Claussen, but a worthy adversary. What frustrates me is that they won’t even give me the option, but choose rather to force their store brand upon me, giving me no other pickle choice and therefore making me resent their pickles rather than happily choose them. It’s all a bit paranoid, if you ask me. What they’re really saying to customers is, “I’m afraid you won’t pick us if you have the option,” like some self-conscious teenage girl who is convinced her more attractive friend will be asked to the prom instead. But why not give me the chance? Listen, Weggies, I love my Boar’s Head meat just as much as the next sandwich eater, but if you offer your oven-roasted, honey glazed 99% fat free turkey for $1 cheaper, I will pick you every time. Same goes for all the other high-quality items you refuse to stock. Because in these tough economic times (sorry, necessary cliché drop), price trumps name brand every single time. Well, except when it comes to macaroni and cheese. You could give that stuff away and I’d probably still buy Kraft. Sorry.