While Market Basket was experiencing some turmoil, I had a chance to check out some of the stores I wouldn’t usually frequent. I planned a 6-store comparison report that compared Market Basket, Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Whole Foods, and the new arrival to the market, Wegmans. I did manage to compare the first 4 but things fell apart when I got to Whole Foods and Wegmans. For Whole Foods, there were just too few things to compare to a “regular” grocery store. Like trying to use a Phillips screwdriver to drive in a slotted screw – wrong tool for the job. Sure, some people manage to rework their life around what Whole Foods has. That’s not me.
But the Wegmans issue was much more surprising. I’d read about Wegmans on foodie blogs and the store seemed perfect. There was the promise of good prices with abundant produce on top of amazing selection and with gourmet bakery and prepared foods to boot. It sounded like Whole Foods for the masses and on a massive scale. I have checked the Wegmans web site every 6 months or so waiting to see if there would be one coming near me. So when the Market Basket shutdown went into effect and the first area Wegmans opened, it was time to make the drive (a half hour seems silly for grocery shopping when are so many grocery stores between me and Wegmans, but considering that previously the closest Wegmans was an hour away and before that was 6 hours away, a half hour didn’t seem so bad).
First, the siting of the store is just weird. It’s set into a hill underneath a strip mall – excuse me, lifestyle shopping center – which is unusual, but it’s a dense area, so whatever – wherever it works should be fine. But the grand “Wegmans” sign doesn’t face the road. It faces a small parking lot with a residential neighborhood beyond it. The sign is most definitely on the back of the building. Okay, the front of the building is underground but still, the siting should have been better. When you walk in, the store is indeed impressive. A massive prepared food section is on the left and a good sized produce section is straight ahead. Behind the prepared foods is a small meat section (more on that in a minute) and behind the produce is a deli counter. To the right is a drug store section.
But wait, where is the actual grocery store? Ah-ha, behind the drug store section, the store widens to reveal the main grocery area. So the main grocery area is deep underground and far away from the back – er, the front – of the building. And it is small! Way smaller than I expected. And probably smaller than the Hannaford that I mentioned as being small in my comparison post. It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that the milk in the far corner is an eighth of a mile from the front door and yet the grocery store is small. This is the primary problem with Wegmans – at least this particular location.
Not surprisingly, considering the size of the grocery area, the selection is quite poor. The juice aisle had only 1/3 as many as the full-size Market Basket, Shaw’s, and Stop & Shop stores. And apparently, Wegmans likes their store brands quite a bit choosing to go with their store brand over name brands in some cases whereas the normal full-size grocery stores have the name brand next to the store brand so shoppers can choose. Even for my key grocery list item, Hint water, they have a store brand version instead; at first I was excited about new flavors but the taste was generally unpleasant – not even a good store brand result. The produce section was good and did offer a few things I haven’t seen elsewhere. But there were also things that they didn’t have or that were worse there than other places. For example, they didn’t offer a pack of mini cucumbers and their shredded carrots were of the wet variety – sure to spoil within a few days. The deli was arranged nicely and was not brightly lit making the whole experience dramatic. But their selection isn’t as good as a New England deli counter ought to be. The meat department was unusual in that there were no trays of meats – everything was cryovac’ed. Probably helps shipping from further distribution centers and that means that they probably don’t have any onsite butchering going on. They have interesting chicken breast packages where you can get a 10-pack of individually cryovac’ed breasts which is something I haven’t seen before. But they don’t have “normal” versions of these things, at least not nearly as plentiful as the area competition. And the variation in cuts of beef was probably only 30% of what Market Basket offers. Lastly, their chocolate chip cookies were like my grandmother used to make – awesome on day 1 and by day 3 starting to get a little weird (due to them being somewhat undercooked).
How about prices? A sign in the store made a point out of comparing other area prices to theirs to show how good theirs were. Obviously when creating such a sign, Wegmans would choose items that make them come out favorably but what about my normal grocery shopping? It’s a little tough to do comparisons since the selection is so poor so I couldn’t include Wegmans in the totals that I showed for the other 4 stores but you can at least see the raw prices for what I did find: grocery2014.numbers
So instead of looking at things overall, I’ll highlight some specifics. That store brand version of hint water? The price is higher than the real thing at Market Basket and about the same price as the second highest for the real thing with only Whole Foods coming in higher. Apple & Eve apple juice was priced about the middle of the other 4 stores. Total Raisin Bran was close to the lowest, Market Basket. Milk was as high as the highest of the other 4, Stop & Shop. Grapes, strawberries, bananas, and romaine hearts matched Market Basket prices for lowest price. So did Utz chips, Ritz crackers, and Ocean Spray cran apple juice. Finally, for Land O Lakes whipped butter, Wegmans ($2.39) actually beats Market Basket ($2.89) though it isn’t that surprisingly since even Stop & Shop beat Market Basket – which makes me wonder if I got that price right from Market Basket. Well, assuming I did, it’s proof that not everything is always cheaper at Market Basket and Wegmans might win one here or there. But for about half the items (primarily produce, it seems), Wegmans matches Market Basket and for the other half, they are more pricey than Market Basket and Hannaford – more in the area of Stop & Shop or Shaw’s.
So where does a grocery store with poor selection and poor prices rank? At the opposite end of the list from where I had such high hopes for it landing.