By Gary Mott
Oct. 17, 2011
BOSTON — There’s a new entry in the hyper-competitive world of food shopping in Massachusetts. Wegmans, a supermarket chain based in Rochester, N.Y., opened its first Bay State store in Northborough on Oct. 16. The massive 138,000-square-foot structure is now the largest grocery store in New England. The family-owned chain enjoys fierce brand loyalty among its customer base and equally from its employees. WGBH Radio’s Gary Mott went to the grand opening to find out what the buzz is about.
It’s 7:00 A.M., and employees at the first Wegmans supermarket in Massachusetts are joining in “The Wegmans Cheer,” which signals a new store is open for business. Only the background of fife and drums tells you they're in a brand-new region for the company.
Up to 20,000 people are about to come through the doors in Northborough, 33 miles west of Boston.
Wegmans philosophy is that those customers’ needs will be best met if the employees’ needs are met first. The company has made “Fortune” magazine’s list of Top 100 places to work every year since 1998.
Seafood Manager Jamie Pinto moved from Rochester to work in Northborough, and says other employees have, too.
“Out of the 600 or so employees we’re going to have at this store, 75 of us relocated to Massachusetts,” she said. “There’s a lot of opportunity, there’s a lot of growth with all the potential stores we’re going to put in the area, so there’s a lot of appeal to moving to a new state for the company.”
As for the customers . . . well, Framingham resident Mark Fogleman calls himself a “Wegmaniac.”
Fogleman spent the night in a tent in the parking lot, so he could be the first in line to enter the store.
It sounds extreme for a supermarket. But Fogleman said Wegmans is more than just a store: “It’s an experience. It’s the best grocery store you could possibly go to — that I’ve ever seen.”
The “experience” includes a soup station, a 300-seat restaurant, a juice bar and a sushi counter.
Plans for more stores in Burlington and Westwood, Mass. are already in the works.
But it is a competitive and crowded marketplace, says one industry analyst. Mike Berger is the editor of the "Griffin Report of Food Marketing," a trade publication that analyzes trends in the food industry. He points to the experience of Krispy Kreme, a popular North Carolina–based donut chain that tried to transplant its success to the Northeast.
When its first store opened in Dedham, Mass., Berger says, “There were lines out the door. Well, where is Krispy Kreme now?" Krispy Kreme no longer has any stores in Mass.
"The question is what happens 3 months from now. You know, there’s so much variety for shoppers to look at,” Berger says.
But if competition can raise the bar, the real winner in the supermarket wars should be the consumer.