Danny Wegman continues to push the boundaries of what a supermarket can be.
Take wine and cheese, for example. The chief executive officer of Wegmans Food Markets made recent headlines when his company helped to fund a new program at Cornell University to raise the profile of cheese made in Wegmans’ home state of New York. For Wegmans, the benefits include the opportunity to source more local products and raise the quality of its offerings, providing another innovation to set the Rochester, N.Y.-based company apart from its peers.
Wegmans in the meantime is becoming increasingly well known for wine, a skill it has developed through expertise gleaned since a 2007 family purchase of a Rochester-area wine distributor, Century Wines. Century’s founder, Sherwood Deutsch, is now employed as Wegmans’ wine expert. (Because of state laws, many of Wegmans’ wine stores are operated as independent businesses.)
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Butch Castellano, a former Tops executive who today operates a wine store in Cheektowaga, N.Y., said Wegmans’ wine business is successful not only because of buying and high volumes but because Danny Wegman gave the business and its employees the same attention he affords food offerings. “Buying power gives him an advantage. Being located next to a Wegmans store is a really big advantage. But, mostly, the advantage is that he’s a supermarket guy,” Castellano explains. “You know to make it in the supermarket industry you need great attention to detail.”
Wine is a feature at several initiatives at Wegmans including the new store opening early next year in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and at Amore, an Italian restaurant that’s part of one of the company’s newest stores in Rochester.
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Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director for Strategic Resource Group, New York, said Danny Wegmans’ challenge remains finding spaces to put store — even as the smaller box going up now in Chestnut Hill will test the company’s ability to operate in tighter confines. But Flickinger predicted regional mall sites could be on the horizon, particularly as department store anchors like Sears and JC Penney struggle and developers look to redevelop around a new anchor.
When asked by SN to provide a comment illustrating Danny Wegman’s vision for the company, his daughter Colleen pointed to his advocacy of a challenge to get employees’ blood pressures in a healthy range. This, Colleen Wegman explained, supports a reputation for employee relations and service that is another distinguishing characteristic of the chain.
“My dad’s passion for helping people live healthier and better lives led to an initiative that helped 90% of our store employees measure their blood pressure and learn if it was in a healthy range. The next challenge will be for 100% of them to fall within a healthy range of 120/80. We focus on blood pressure because we believe that if people take steps to improve their blood pressure, like eating right and exercising more, their overall health will improve,” Colleen Wegman said. “Dad has always believed in taking care of people at Wegmans so they in turn can take care of our customers. This is a great example of how he lives his vision every day.”
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