Oct 7, 2011

thinking of Wegman's

(In case some people are interested - a book club on Anna Karenina has started Today at http://unputdownables.net/! It's always fun to read with people, especially for such a long book with long sentences and all people's names long!)

This not exactly about tea. Wegman's is a grocery chain store. But the more I think of it, the more I feel it's not totally irrelevant to tea. My observations and thoughts are in 3 aspects:
1. Wegman's and tea drinkers
2. Wegman's and me
3. Wegman's and business

Wegman's and tea driners

In the past a few years communicating with tea drinkers, I have got the impression that many tea drinkers enjoy shopping at Wegman's. I remember reading Alex Zorach's (of ratetea.net) talked about his tea shopping experience at Wegman's. Marlena at Tea for Today wrote about her tea from Wegman's too. And I think I saw Wegman's mentioned in a number of other blogs and online tea forums too. For a few times, I saw Wegman's mentioned in some tea reviews and topic discussions on Steepster. So I did a quick search by googling (Wegman's site:steepster.com). The turn-outs are numerous, although Wegman's is not specifically a tea company. Interesting!

I guess there are a few major reasons why tea drinkers like Wegman's. First of all, Wegman's has a broader range of loose leaf tea than most other grocery stores. Secondly, Wegman's has a broader range of many other agricultural products (such as vegetables, grains and nuts) than most other grocery stores. In my observation, most tea drinkers have great interests in fine food and natural food, and Wegman's does very well in this aspect.

Wegman's and me

I lived in central New York for several years and went to Wegman's frequently. Later, after I moved to a region without Wegman's, I miss it so much! I even went to their website to checkout their pace of expansion, hoping they expand to my area soon! 

Why do I like Wegman's? There are several reasons. First of all, as mentioned earlier, it has a broad range of things, especially fresh stuff such as vegetables (and of course tea, but several years ago tea was not yet as abundant as today). Compared with Wegman's, many groceries have very small veggie and fruit section, so small that it almost seems like they are determined to let us have very little fresh goods and drive us to the central aisles of the store where many processed foods are located. 

Besides, I could find in Wegman's a number of things that I could hardly found elsewhere. For example, there was a time when I missed a kind of Chinese green beans very much. Before visiting Wegman's, for a long time, I had thought this kind of beans are not available in the States. Later I was so glad to find it in Wegman's. It's labeled "Italian flat beans" but it's the same as my Chinese flat beans. Wegman's has other things that are not so rare but most other groceries don't carry, because they are not what everybody buys every week. 

As I remember, Wegman's was also one of the first groceries that had extensive bakery sections. Later on, a few more groceries expand their bakeries to sort of match Wegman's offerings. I grew up without bake goods ready to pick up on store shelves. At the beginning, I was attracted to bakeries because freshly made breads always taste so much better than shelf breads. Later, it took me some reading and studying to learn that there are huge differences between bakery breads and shelf breads not only in their tasting quality, but in their overall ingredients! Therefore I really appreciate it that Wegman's took the lead to have in-store bakeries.

Wegman's and business
As I've learned from Marion Nestle's book, What to Eat, in terms of business model, what distinguish groceries like Wegman's and many other groceries is, family-owned groceries such as Wegman's don't have to work for the stock market, and therefore can possibly aim at a balance between making profits and fulfilling other missions (such as providing good food?). For a lot of businesses that have stock holders, making profits is not enough, and sometimes is even a failure. Many of them have to maintain an increasing rate of profits in order to boost stock holders' confidence. This means, their profits must increase almost exponentially for several consecutive years. Such profit increase would be hard for most businesses. To make it happen, a business has to try everything to maximize its profits - for a grocery, this often means carrying products (often "bad" food) of maximum profits and dropping many others (often good food). 

In this sense, although Wegman's is a grocery, it can be a role model for tea businesses too. With the expansion of American tea market, there will be a lot more large companies, and tea companies have started entering the stock market. Generally speaking, such expansion is a good thing, and indicates a new era of American tea market. On the other hand, I believe, for tea drinkers and tea businesses (small and large all included), the vitality of tea always lies on its diversity.


Alex Zorach said...

I do like Wegmans...but even Wegmans doesn't really cut it, when it comes to comparing with the places I regularly shop.

I often shop at independent markets that sell produce more directly, such as produce stands at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, or the Newark, Delaware Farmer's Market. I've found these other sources of food to be consistently fresher, cheaper, and more diverse.

It also has gotten me a bit more in touch with the seasonality of foods...for example, now I have bags of Macoun and Cortland apples in my fridge, because that's what's in season on the east coast. They're small apples and they're very fresh and were very cheap (under 70 cents a pound). You go in a typical supermarket and it's all the same varieties of apples, year-round, nearly always over $1/pound, nearly always waxy and bland, nearly always trucked in from the pacific northwest. I'll pass.


Katrina said...

Good timing. They just announced the opening of the first Wegman's in our area. I was already intrigued but now hearing that there might be some tea worth checking out I'm even more anxious.