NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — For New England food retailers, the game is on.
Wegmans Food Markets made it made its long-awaited debut last week here, drawing more than 25,000 curious New Englanders for whom the Rochester, N.Y.-based retailer was something of an intriguing mystery. Wegmans said the opening day crowd of 25,500 was its biggest opening ever, surpassing an estimated 20,000 first-day shoppers at its Dulles, Va., debut in 2004.
Observers told SN last week that they saw little reason to doubt Wegmans would become a force in New England, an otherwise mature grocery market they noted tends to lack such “destination” food stores.
Wegmans has plans for additional stores in Westwood, Mass., and Burlington, Mass.
“I would think [New England] would be a fertile market for Wegmans because the fact is that aside from a few Whole Foods stores, the food market in Boston is largely boring and monopolistic,” Gary Giblen, managing director for Aegis Capital, New York, told SN. “I think there's room for a quality player around Boston and its suburbs.”
Craig Johnson, president of New Canaan, Conn.-based Customer Growth Partners, estimated that the Northborough Wegmans would within two years double the chain's average annual sales per store of $70 million — a figure that would represent nearly 0.4% of the $40 billion New England grocery market by itself. Johnson cited not only Wegmans' unique offerings, but also a well-located, easily accessible position in a sharp new shopping complex.
“This Wegmans will expand the market by raising the competitive bar among a historically underserved New England grocery customer, and force others — from Market Basket to Shaw's and Stop & Shop — to raise their game to stay competitive,” Johnson said. “There aren't that many grocery stores that are true destination stores, but this will be one, big time.”