CLOSE
Wegmans
Wegmans

15 Things You Might Not Know About Wegmans

Wegmans
Wegmans

When Consumer Reports polled its readers to name the best grocery store chain in the United States in 2015, the answer was the same as the one they had gotten in 2014: Wegmans had no equal. The supermarket headquartered in Rochester, New York earned top honors for food freshness, organic selection, and cleanliness. Privately owned and family operated, the chain’s 91 Mid-Atlantic stores are also renowned for their treatment of employees. Take a look at a few facts to keep in mind the next time you’re roaming one of their massive locations.

1. THEY WERE ENORMOUS EVEN IN THE 1930S.

Wegmans

You might assume the trend of mega-markets is a relatively recent development, with quaint mom-and-pop shops dotting states in the 20th century. But when brothers John and Walter Wegman got into the grocery business in the 1920s, they quickly worked their way up to a 20,000 square foot store that included a cafeteria that seated 300 people. (Current stores run between 75,000 to 140,000 square feet.)

2. THEY HAD THEIR OWN TV SHOW.

In the 1950s, Wegmans gave its customers novelty currency along with their change; the money could be used during taping of a regional television program called Dollar Derby. The auction allowed the studio audience to bid on merchandise and pay using the phony money. (Using phony money for any current Wegmans transaction is, of course, very illegal.)

3. IT MIGHT BE EASIER TO GET INTO HARVARD THAN TO WORK THERE.

Wegmans

When a new Wegmans store debuts, the demand for jobs usually far exceeds the open positions. In 2013, a location in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania received 10,000 applications for 500 available slots. That’s a five percent acceptance rate, compared to Harvard’s 5.8 percent for undergraduates.

4. NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY WHEN A NEW STORE OPENS.

While Wegmans can get thousands of calls and letters pleading for a location to open up in an untapped market, not everyone is happy when they do. A store is Abingdon, Maryland caused considerable driver dissatisfaction when the stream of customers backed up traffic along nearby routes; A local ShopRite grocery chain was said to be the victim of unfair practices when Wegmans ran inaccurate pricing comparison ads in local papers.

5. YES, THEY KNOW THERE SHOULD BE AN APOSTROPHE.

Wegmans

"Wegmans" is sometimes erroneously spelled in media stories as "Wegman’s," which would make a bit more sense. But the company stopped using an apostrophe in 1931 when it wanted to "simplify" its logo. Correcting their own grammar would be an expensive proposition: The company estimates it would cost a total of $500,000 to add the proper punctuation to all of their store signage.

6. EMPLOYEES CAN BE ISSUED SCHOLARSHIPS.

If you run into more smiling faces at Wegmans than in other locations, it might be because of the employee perks. Since 1984, the company has handed out nearly $100 million in scholarships to over 30,000 workers. The chain looks at transcripts, employee performance, and time requirements to find eligible candidates, who can receive up to $8800 over four years for tuition and school-related expenses.

7. THERE WAS A WEGMANS MUSICAL.

Call it kitsch or just a genuine affection for the store: Area high school students were so enthusiastic about the arrival of a Wegmans in Northborough, Massachusetts that they decided to write and perform a musical based on the chain. In the show, two brothers work for rival groceries: one at Wegmans, one for Acme. An Acme store spy dispatched to sabotage Wegmans winds up falling in love with it. The 90-minute show included songs about cheeses. The store donated carts, signs, and chef’s hats to the production. (The school got to keep everything but the carts.)

8. THEY TRIED OPENING HARDWARE STORES.

Thinking it would be wise to try lending their consumer savvy to the hardware industry, Wegmans opened its first hardware store in Rochester in 1973. Several more stores followed, operating under the name Chase-Pitkin. By 2005, however, the chain was unable to keep up with the rapid expansion of both Lowe’s and Home Depot; all of the locations closed.

9. THEY HAVE A STORE JUST FOR KIDS.

To prepare your little ones for a career in produce, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester has a kid-sized Wegmans on site. The store—which stocks only fake foods—allows young visitors to go behind the counter and experience life as a sushi chef or a cashier. A similar space recently opened at the Smithsonian.

10. THERE’S A REASON THE PRODUCE IS SO FRESH.

If Wegmans produce looks and tastes better than what you typically find in other area markets, it might not just be a placebo effect. According to the Strategic Resource Group, a typical Wegmans store turns over its produce selection 100 times a year; most supermarkets do it just 18 to 20 times. Very little stays on the shelves long enough to turn bad.

11. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN CHEESE CAVES.

Wegmans

With a large section of their fresh food section devoted to more than 300 fine, aged cheeses, Wegmans made the unprecedented move of opening their own cheese caves near Rochester in 2014. The climate-controlled building is intended to replicate how European suppliers age their cheeses; there’s even a room just for brie.

12. THEY SCORED A RARE YELLOW LOBSTER.

A Pittsford, New York Wegmans location got an unexpected delivery in July 2011 when a rare yellow lobster was dropped off as part of their regular seafood shipment. The color mutation is found in just one out of every 30 million of the little guys. Rather than offer it as dinner, the store donated it to a local aquarium.

13. THEY HAVE AN ODD RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BALDWIN FAMILY.

In 2010 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, Alec Baldwin discussed his mother Carol’s unwavering love of the supermarket chain, claiming that she would not join her family on the West Coast because there aren’t any Wegmans locations there. The company was charmed by the story and enlisted both Baldwin and his mom to appear in a series of television spots. The relationship appeared to be severed in late 2011, after Baldwin got into a widely reported argument on an American Airlines flight. The company "thought it was best" to discontinue the ads. But just a week later, they apologized to Baldwin and decided to put the commercials back on the air.

14. ONE STORE HAD A VENDING MACHINE THAT POURED WINE.

At the forefront of inebriation technology, Wegmans installed a vending machine in 2011 that dispensed wine in their Allentown, Pennsylvania store. A glass costs between $6 and $10 depending on variety (white or red) and size (2.5 or 5 ounces). While this sounds like an amazing development in human ingenuity, the chain ultimately pulled the plug on the unit; in addition to frequent malfunctions, the devices required customers to scan their driver’s license and blow into a breathalyzer before being served.

15. WALGREENS SUED THEM OVER THE "W."

In a battle of consonants, the pharmacy chain Walgreens decided to file a lawsuit against Wegmans in 2011 over claims the "W" logo appeared too similar to their own. The script-style lettering was first used in 2008, with Wegmans insisting it was based on promotional material from the 1930s. They agreed to stop using it as a single-letter logo in 2012, but the company can still make use of the script using their full brand name.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
The Science Behind Why We Crave Loud and Crunchy Foods
iStock
iStock

A number of years ago, food giant Unilever polled consumers asking how the company might improve their popular line of Magnum ice cream bars. The problem, respondents said, was that the chocolate coating of the bars tended to fall off too quickly, creating blotches of sticky goo on carpeting. Unilever reacted by changing the recipe to make the chocolate less prone to spills.

When they tested the new and improved product, they expected a warm reception. Instead, they got more complaints than before. While the updated bar didn’t make a mess, it also didn’t make the distinctive crackle that its fans had grown accustomed to. Deprived of hearing the coating collapse and crumble, the experience of eating the ice cream was fundamentally changed. And not for the better.

Smell and taste researcher Alan Hirsch, M.D. refers to it as the “music of mastication,” an auditory accompaniment to the sensory stimulus of eating. “For non-gustatory, non-olfactory stimulation, people prefer crunchiness,” he tells Mental Floss. Humans love crunchy, noisy snacks, that loud rattling that travels to our inner ear via air and bone conduction and helps us identify what it is we’re consuming. Depending on the snack, the noise can reach 63 decibels. (Normal conversations are around 60 dB; rustling leaves, 20 dB.)

When we hear it, we eat more. When we don’t—as in the case of Magnum bars, or a soggy, muted potato chip—we resort to other senses, looking at our food with doubt or sniffing it for signs of expiration. Psychologically, our lust for crispy sustenance is baked in. But why is it so satisfying to create a cacophony of crunch? And if we love it so much, why do some of us actually grow agitated and even aggressive when we hear someone loudly chomping away? It turns out there’s a lot more to eating with our ears than you might have heard.

 
 

The science of crunch has long intrigued Charles Spence, Ph.D., a gastrophysicist and professor of experimental psychology and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Food companies have enlisted him and consulted his research across the spectrum of ingestion, from packaging to shapes to the sound chips make rustling around in grocery carts.

“We’re not born liking noisy foods,” he tells Mental Floss. “Noise doesn’t give a benefit in terms of nutrition. But we don’t like soggy crisps even if they taste the same. Missing the sound is important.”

In 2003, Spence decided to investigate the sonic appeal of chips in a formal setting. To keep a semblance of control, he selected Pringles, which are baked uniformly—a single Pringle doesn't offer any significant difference in size, thickness, or crunch from another. He asked 20 research subjects to bite into 180 Pringles (about two cans) while seated in a soundproof booth in front of a microphone. The sound of their crunching was looped back into a pair of headphones.

After consuming the cans, they were asked if they perceived any difference in freshness or crispness from one Pringle to another. What they didn’t know was that Spence had been playing with the feedback in their headphones, raising or lowering the volume of their noisy crunching [PDF]. At loud volumes, the chips were reported to be fresher; chips ingested while listening at low volume were thought to have been sitting out longer and seemed softer. The duplicitous sounds resulted in a radical difference in chip perception. It may have been a small study, but in the virtually non-existent field of sonic chip research, it was groundbreaking.

A view inside a potato chip bag
iStock

For Spence, the results speak to what he considers the inherent appeal of crunchy foods. “Noisy foods correlate with freshness,” he says. “The fresher the produce, like apples, celery, or lettuce, the more vitamins and nutrients it’s retained. It’s telling us what’s in the food.”

Naturally, this signal becomes slightly misguided when it reinforces the quality of a potato chip, a processed slab of empty calories. But Spence has a theory on this, too: “The brain likes fat in food, but it’s not so good at detecting it through our mouths. Noisy foods are certainly fattier on average.”

Fatty or fresh, raising decibels while eating may also have roots in less appetizing behaviors. For our ancestors who ate insects, the crunch of a hard-bodied cricket symbolized nourishment. In a primal way, violently mincing food with our teeth could also be a way to vent and dilute aggression. “There are some psychoanalytic theories related to crunchiness and aggressive behavior,” Hirsch says. “When you bite into ice or potato chips, you’re sublimating that in a healthy way.”

 
 

All of these factors explain why crunch appeals to us. But is it actually affecting what we taste?

Yes—but maybe not the way you’d think. “Sound affects the experience of food,” Spence says. “The noise draws attention to the mouth in the way something silent does not. If you’re eating pâté, your attention can drift elsewhere, to a television or to a dining companion. But a crunch will draw your attention to what you’re eating, making you concentrate on it. Noisy foods make you think about them.”

That crunch can also influence how much food we consume. Because noisy foods tend to be fatty, Spence says, they’ll retain their flavor longer. And because the noise reinforces our idea of what we’re eating, it affords us a sense of security that allows us to keep consuming without having to look at our snack—not so important in a brightly-lit room, but crucial if we’re in a dark movie theater. “It becomes more important when you can’t see what you’re eating,” Spence says.

Thanks to this hard-wired feedback, the snack industry has made it a priority to emphasize the sounds of their foods in both development and marketing. In the 1980s, Frito-Lay funded extensive work at a Dallas plant that involved $40,000 chewing simulators. There, they discovered the ideal breaking point for a chip was four pounds per square inch (PSI), just a fraction of what we might need to tear into a steak (150 to 200 PSI). The quality and consistency of the potatoes themselves is also key, according to Herbert Stone, Ph.D., a food scientist who has worked with companies on product development. “Too thick, too hard, and people don’t like them,” Stone tells Mental Floss. “Too thin and they just crumble.”

The right potato sliced at the right thickness with the right oil at the right temperature results in a solid chip—one resilient enough to make for a satisfying break when it hits your molars, but vanishing so quickly that your brain and body haven’t even processed the calories you’ve just taken in. “If they pick it up and put it in the mouth and the crunch is not what they expect, they might put it down,” Stone says. “It’s about expectation.”

A shopper examines a bag of potato chips
iStock

Walk down the snack aisle in your local supermarket or glance at commercials and you’ll find no shortage of claims about products being the boldest, crunchiest chip available. For years, Frito-Lay marketed Cheetos as “the cheese that goes crunch!” Even cereals try to capitalize on the fervor, making mascots—Snap, Crackle, and Pop—out of the sound their Rice Krispies make when submerged in milk. One ad for a brand of crisps drew attention for “cracking” the viewer’s television screen.

For most consumers, the promise of sonic flavor will draw their attention. But for a small number of people diagnosed with a condition dubbed misophonia, the sound of a co-worker or partner crunching on chips isn’t at all pleasurable. It’s insufferable.

 
 

According to Connecticut audiologist Natan Bauman, M.D., the average noise level of someone masticating a potato chip is between 25 to 35 decibels. (Other sources peg it as closer to 63 dB when you're chewing on a chip with your mouth open, or 55 dB with your lips closed.) When you hear your own chewing, the sound is being conducted both via the air and your own bones, giving it a distinctively unique sound. (Like talking, hearing yourself chewing on a recording might be troubling.)

For someone suffering from misophonia, or the literal hatred of specific sounds, it's not their own chomping that's the problem. It's everyone else's.

When we chew, Bauman says, the auditory cortical and limbic system areas of our brain are lighting up, getting information about freshness and texture. But people with misophonia aren’t struggling with their own sounds. Instead, they're affected by others typing, clicking pens, or, more often, chewing. The sound of someone snacking is routed from the cochlea, or cavity in the inner ear, and becomes an electric signal that winds up in the brain’s amygdala, which processes fear and pleasure. That's true for everyone, but in misophonics, it lands with a thud. They’ve likely developed a trigger, or negative association, with the sounds stemming from an incident in childhood.

“If you are scolded by a parent and they happen to be eating, or smacking, it becomes negative reinforcement,” Bauman says. Chewing, lip smacking, and even breathing become intolerable for sufferers, who often feel agitated and nervous, with corresponding increases in heart rate. Some fly into a rage.

Misophonics don’t necessarily recoil at all of these sounds all of the time: It may depend on who’s doing the snacking. Often, it’s a co-worker, spouse, or family member munching away that prompts a response. Fearing they’ll damage that relationship, sufferers tend to vent online. The misophonia subreddit is home to threads with titles like “And the popcorn eater sits RIGHT next to me on the plane” and “Chips can go f-ck themselves.” (The entire content of the latter: “F-ck chips, man. That is all.”)

Bauman says misophonia can be treated using cognitive therapy. An earpiece can provide white noise to reduce trigger sounds while sufferers try to retrain their brain to tolerate the noises. But even the sight of a bag of chips can be enough to send them scrambling.

People with misophonia might also want to exercise caution when traveling. Although some Asian cultures minimize crunchy snacks because loud snacking is considered impolite, other parts of the world can produce noisier mealtimes. “In parts of Asia, you show appreciation for food by slurping,” Spence says. Slurping is even associated with a more intense flavor experience, particularly when it’s in the setting of a comparatively quiet dining establishment.

Western culture favors noisier restaurants, and there’s a good reason for that. Supposedly Hard Rock Café has mastered the art of playing loud and fast music, resulting in patrons who talked less, ate faster, and left more quickly, allowing operators to turn over tables more times in an evening.

Spence believes sound will continue to be important to gastronomy, to chefs, and to food companies looking to sell consumers on a complete experience. Snack shelves are now full of air-puffed offerings like 3-D Doritos and Pop Chips that create pillows of taste. With less volume, you’ll snack more and crunch for longer periods.

A woman snacks on a chip
iStock

But the sound of the chip is just one part of the equation. The way a bag feels when you pick it up at the store, the aroma that wafts out when you first open the bag, the concentration of flavor from the granules of seasoning on your fingers—it’s all very carefully conducted to appeal to our preferences.

“When we hear the rattle of crisps, it may encourage people to start salivating, like Pavlov’s dogs,” Spence says, referring to the Russian scientist who trained his canines to salivate when he made a certain sound. We’re conditioned to anticipate the flavor and enjoyment of chips as soon as we pick up a package. Even hearing or saying the words crispy and crunchy can prime us for the experience.

When we’re deprived of that auditory cue, we can get annoyed. After news reports emerged that Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi had mentioned her company might consider a quieter version of Doritos for women—an idea PepsiCo later denied they would label in a gender-specific fashion—women Doritos enthusiasts rallied around the Texas state capitol, condemning the perceived gender discrimination. To protest the possible dilution of their favorite snack, they made a spectacle of crunching Doritos as loudly as they could.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
environment
London Grocery Chain Encourages Shoppers to Bring Their Own Tupperware
iStock
iStock

Why stop at bringing your own grocery bags to the store? One London grocery wants you to BYO-Tupperware. The London Evening Standard reports that a UK chain called Planet Organic has partnered with Unpackaged—a company dedicated to sustainable packaging—to install self-serve bulk-food dispensers where customers can fill their own reusable containers with dry goods, cutting down on plastic packaging waste.

To use the system, customers walk up and weigh their empty container at a self-serve station, printing and attaching a label with its tare weight. Then, they can fill it with flour, nuts, or other kinds of dry goods, weigh it again, and print the price tag before taking it up to the check out. (Regular customers only have to weigh their containers once, since they can save the peel-off label to use again next time.)

Planet Organic is offering cereals, legumes, grains, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, and even some cleaning products in bulk as part of this program, significantly reducing the amount of waste shoppers would otherwise be taking home on each grocery trip.

Zero-waste grocery stores have been popping up in Europe for several years. These shops, like Berlin's Original Unverpackt, don't offer any bags or containers, asking customers bring their own instead. This strategy also encourages people to buy only what they need, which eliminates food waste—there's no need to buy a full 5-pound bag of flour if you only want to make one cake.

The concept is also gaining traction in North America. The no-packaging grocery store in.gredients opened in Austin, Texas in 2011. The Brooklyn store Package Free, opened in 2017, takes the idea even further, marketing itself as a one-stop shop for "everything that you'd need to transition to a low waste lifestyle." It sells everything from tote bags to laundry detergent to dental floss.

[h/t London Evening Standard]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios