The untold truth of Wegmans

Abundant, fresh produce. Giant bulk sections. Curated cheese caves. And an olive bar so extensive that it's more aptly named a Mediterranean bar. These are just some of the things Wegmans shoppers love about the grocery chain, which operates 94 stores on the east coast of the Unites States. Designed to "look and feel like a European open-air market," Wegmans stores have garnered a cult following for themselves. So what things should you know before you shop there? Here's the skinny on Wegmans, from basic facts to critical observations.

They keep it in the family

Wegmans stores, though they are a grocery juggernaut today, have humble beginnings in New York. It was founded in Rochester in 1916, when John Wegman opened the Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Company. He was joined by his brother Walter a year later, and because the two brothers had grown up working in their parents' store, they were able to grow and sustain the business. They steered the company until 1950, when Walter's son Robert assumed the reins, and during the 1970s he expanded the business significantly. Today the store is run by Robert's son Danny, who is the chairman, and his two daughters, Nicole and Coleen, who are the president and CEO and senior vice-president, respectively.

They're number one

Of all the groceries in all the regions in all the world, Wegmans is firmly entrenched in the number one spot, according to surveys from Consumer Reports. They've been clenching that number one vote since 2006, beating out other fierce competitors like Publix, Market Basket, and Trader Joe's. The survey, which included nearly 58,000 people and 62 different grocery stores, took a variety of factors into account, such as cleanliness, product availability, attractive produce, affordable prices, and the quality of meats and poultry. 

They have minimal food waste

Wegmans stores are physically large. In fact, the space that one Wegmans store occupies can be equal to double the space of other supermarkets — between 80,000 to 120,000 feet — which gives you a sense of just how big they are. Additionally, they really utilize that space, stocking it full of goods that never stay on the shelf for long. That's because Wegmans turns over its inventory as much as 100 times per year, compared to other stores who only turn inventory over 18 to 20 times. That's a significant difference, and it explains why their produce is known for being fresh. Top it off with the fact that this helps them function with minimal food waste — something they've been working on for a while — and you have a very efficient system at work. Plus minimal food waste means cheaper prices all around.

They're great to work for

Wegmans didn't make the Fortune 100 best companies to work for list 20 years in a row for being a slouch to its employees. Rather, they are known for treating their employees very well, offering them a variety of opportunities and advantages. For one, the benefits are pretty good, ranging from full healthcare coverage, wellness screenings, paid vacation and holidays, 401K plans matched at 50 percent, and tuition scholarships. And since they're privately owned, they're not at the mercy of the stock market, which can give employees good job security. Their pay rates are also fair, though they're not outstanding. Still, given that they've never had layoffs even when they've had to shutter stores, they remain a pretty good place to work.

It's hard to get a job there

With such a hospitable working environment, it's understandable that competition for jobs at Wegmans would be healthy. But apparently, it's more than healthy — in fact, it can be downright fierce. Wegmans regularly gets thousands of applications every time it opens new stores, which is impressive, but sometimes it can be strait-up cutthroat to get your foot in the door. For example, when a new Wegmans store opened in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, a whopping 10,000 people applied for 500 available positions. That means it was more competitive to get a job there than it was to get into Harvard University that same year, which only admitted 5.8 percent of applicants. 

They tried to ditch Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin and his mom really like Wegmans. In fact, they star together in commercials for the grocer, highlighting that Baldwin's mom refuses to move from the northeast out to Los Angeles due to a dearth of Wegmans stores in the region. Things got controversial, though, when Baldwin got in trouble with American Airlines for refusing to turn off his cell phone, subsequently calling the flight crew offensive names. That's when Wegmans pulled the plug on the commercials, likely worried about the fallout. But due to an influx of fans emailing, tweeting, and calling in defense of Baldwin, they reinstated the commercials soon thereafter. 

Chris Christie is a big spender there

Back in 2015, Chris Christie found himself in some hot water after it was revealed that he spent $300,000 on food and alcohol over a five-year period, and charged it to an expense account. Of that $300,000, a total of $76,373 was spent at Wegmans stores during 53 separate visits to the chain. That means each visit averaged out to a little over $1,400 spent. According to an aide at the governor's office, all of those expenditures were for official purposes only, such as receptions and upkeep of the New Jersey governor's mansion, and nothing for Christie's personal use. 

They have great customer service

Wegmans invests heavily in their workforce, ensuring that they're skilled at what they do. And that investment generates a byproduct: excellent customer service. It makes sense, as employees who are experts in their area will be a better resource for shoppers, as opposed someone who doesn't care about the product. As Kevin Stickles, who is the vice-president for human resources, told The Atlantic, "When you think about employees first, the bottom line is better. We want our employees to extend the brand to our customers." To that end, some staffers will be sent on trips to learn more about their area of expertise, so there's a chance the butcher at your Wegmans visited a ranch in Argentina, or perhaps your cheese seller visited Italy. Additionally, cashiers have to complete a full 40 hours of training before they can work with customers at all, which gives you a sense of how much training they're given. 

They run their own restaurants

Many grocery stores have prepared meals for purchase that they make on-site, like sushi, sandwiches, and rotisserie chicken. And some stores have additional specialty offerings. If you shop at Whole Foods, for example, you might be able to treat yourself to beer and oysters. Also, some grocers will have a Starbucks operating within the store so you can get fresh lattes and scones. 

But Wegmans has taken the prepared food game a step further, as some of their locations have full-on restaurants, and they're quite popular. One restaurant serves contemporary American fare, such as sushi, salads, and sandwiches. Another one specializes in high-end burgers and fries, generating long lines on Friday nights. They even have an Italian fine dining restaurant inside one of their Rochester locations, which makes its own pasta from scratch and has an extensive wine list. And of course, all of the ingredients they use are from Wegmans.

They only open three stores per year

With such a successful business model, you'd think Wegmans would be interested in expanding as fast as possible. But surprisingly, they're not chomping at the bit to grow exponentially, instead taking a more measured approach and opening no more than three stores per year. That's because they fear that their quality would decrease if they move too fast. As Mary Ellen Burris, a senior vice-president and trusted member of the Wegmans team, told The Atlantic, "we cannot continue to be the best if we try to go at a faster pace." 

But that doesn't mean they're against opening stores in new markets where they'll compete against other grocery stores like Publix, something they've already done. It will be interesting to see where they go next.

They've been criticized about GMO labeling

Proponents of GMO labeling have criticized Wegmans for their decision not to require labels on products that contain genetically modified ingredients. But that doesn't mean they're not supportive of the idea altogether. Rather, they want to see the directive come from the government. A statement on their website says, "We have strongly supported a national GMO definition for labeling food products.  In 2016 the US Congress enacted a GMO labeling bill which will take a couple of years to implement. Eventually consumers will have consistent, non-misleading labeling no matter who distributes the product." So while they don't require labels for now, they'll implement whatever the mandate may be.

Critics say they've abandoned the inner city

As much as Wegmans is lauded and loved by many people, there has been some criticism from folks who accuse the grocer of abandoning the inner city. That's because they've closed two inner-city stores: one in Rochester, and one in Syracuse — and some of the locals were not happy about it.  Joe Nicoletti, a former city common councilor and state assemblyman, told The Post Standard, "It's a horrific decision for the city, a body blow for that part of town and Wegmans needs to have its feet held to the fire on this." This was especially upsetting to him because he shops there, along with a diverse immigrant community. And while Wegmans attributes the closure to a decline in shopping traffic, some residents don't buy that line of reasoning. Still, Wegmans rarely closes stores, so hopefully there won't be any further issues.

Their Trump wines caused some controversy

Wegmans sells a wide variety of wines and spirits, ranging from cheap domestic standards to high-end imports from Italy and France. So there's nothing unusual about the fact that they sell Trump wine, which they have been doing since 2011. Unsurprisingly, though, in recent years this has become a controversial action, according to those who oppose the Trump administration and its policies. Some have called for a boycott on Trump wines, putting Wegmans in the middle of of a controversial situation. But as Jo Natale, the vice president of media relations for the grocer, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Our role as a retailer is to offer choice to our customers," he said. "For various reasons, we are sometimes asked to stop selling a product. Our response is always the same, no matter the product: How a product performs is our single measure for what stays on our shelves and what goes." So they're attentive only to supply and demand, and don't consider this to reflect their political stances.

They know they're not grammatically correct

Grammar aficionados might think Wegmans forgot the apostrophe in their name, which should be there to indicate possession. However, there's a reason it isn't there: in 1931, they simplified the logo and the apostrophe has been missing ever since. And it's not likely to make a return, as it would cost over $500,000 to add it on all of their storefront signs and products. For that reason, they encourage customers to think of it simply as a plural as opposed to a possessive. 

Danny Wegman has an eclectic fashion sense

It's no secret among hardcore Wegmans fans that Danny Wegman has an eclectic fashion sense. He's known for wearing bold, bright colors and styles that sometimes have been known to border on the flashy. Even in corporate advertisements for the chain, he's not afraid to sport a yellow, western-inspired leather jacket, complete with fringe, casually draped over his otherwise professional getup. Devotees have also pointed out his proclivity for suit jackets in bright colors or with bold accents, describing his fashion sense as "a curious fusion of glam and grandpa." So he's pretty hard to miss, especially given that he drives a cherry-red, custom ferrari around town, to boot.