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.

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New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long
Apeel
Apeel

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh
Apeel

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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The Popcorn Company That's Creating Jobs for Adults With Autism
iStock
iStock

A New Jersey-based gourmet popcorn company is dedicating its profits to creating new employment “popportunities” for adults on the autism spectrum, A Plus reports.

Popcorn for the People, founded by Rutgers University professor Dr. Barbie Zimmerman-Bier and her husband, radiologist Dr. Steven Bier, is a nonprofit subsidiary of the couple's charitable organization Let’s Work For Good, which focuses on "creating meaningful and lasting employment for adults with autism and developmental disabilities." Recognizing the lack of skilled employment options for adults with developmental disabilities, the Biers decided to create jobs themselves through this popcorn venture, with all of the profits going to their charitable organization. According to the site, every tin of popcorn purchased "provides at least an hour of meaningful employment" to adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, who perform jobs like making popcorn, labeling products, and marketing.

The couple developed the idea for the business and the nonprofit in 2015 when their son, Sam, grew tired of his job at a grocery store. Sam, 27, is on the autism spectrum, and after six years of working as a “cart guy,” he decided he was ready to try something new. Employment opportunities were scarce, though. Jobs that provided enough resources for someone on the spectrum tended to consist of menial work, and more skilled positions involved a tough interview process.

“Some companies mean well, but they are limited in what they can offer,” Steven Bier told TAP Into East Brunswick in 2015.

Unemployment rates are especially high among adults with autism. Last year, Drexel University reported that only 14 percent of autistic adults who use state-funded disability services are employed in paid work positions. And while high-functioning autistic adults are often perfectly capable of working in technical careers, the actual process of getting hired can be challenging. People with autism tend to struggle with understanding nuance and social conventions, which makes the interviewing process particularly difficult.

Enter the Biers' popcorn business. What began in 2015 as the Pop-In Cafe (which still sells popcorn and deli items at its New Jersey location) now distributes flavored popcorn all over the world. In three years, the organization has gone from a staff of four, with one employee on the autism spectrum, to a staff of 50, nearly half of whom are on the spectrum. In July, the organization plans to expand to a larger production facility in order to keep up with demand.

The company provides an environment for employees to learn both hard skills, like food preparation and money management, and what the company describes as “watercooler life skills.”

"There just aren't many programs that teach these sorts of things in a real-world environment, with all that entails," Bier told My Central Jersey. "These are skills that the kids can use here, and elsewhere."

According to A Plus, you can now buy Popcorn for the People in person at locations like the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and the Lyric Theatre in Times Square. The organization sells 12 flavors of popcorn (including cookies and cream, Buffalo wing, and French toast), all created by Agnes Cushing-Ruby, a chef who donates 40 hours a week to the company.

“I never thought that the little pop-up shop would grow into this,” Sam told A Plus. “It makes me so happy to see we have helped so many people.”

[h/t A Plus]

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