With the opening of its third store in New Jersey -- hundreds of miles from its base of operations in Rochester, N.Y. -- Wegmans is tempting a new wave of shoppers with a extra-wide, fresh-foods aisle that comprises nearly one-third of the total selling floor in each Garden State store.
In this store, the width of the aisle has been expanded an additional three feet on either side, according to officials.The boulangerie and patisserie occupy prime corner real estate, a sweet kickoff to the aisle. At this location, the chain uses some unique merchandising techniques that tie in with other departments -- the ISB is just across from the chef-prepared foods case -- and help create a fresh umbrella for the entire cafe area.
For example, in the boulangerie, fresh artisan breads are used to create sandwiches. Made in the stores' kitchens, the breads and deli meats are combined and then stacked in a glass-shelf merchandiser (though the prepared foods department gets the ring, according to store officials). On the day SN visited Wegmans' 120,000-square-foot unit in Bridgewater, N.J., a typical option was grilled chicken salad with scallions, roasted red peppers, cucumber and field greens on a pumpernickel demi baguette. Some seven varieties are made every day, at a price of $5.49. During the off-hours, the sandwiches are available out of the chefs case.
The boulangerie is segmented by bread type, with baskets and display space fronting a work area for cutting. One section features wood-fired brick oven breads. Here, a thick-crust panne alle olive was placed next to a loaf of hearty multigrain with currant. An interesting item being sampled was orange-almond skillet bread, a new item, priced at $5.50.
The more common table breads were merchandised on the opposite side, including Wegmans' own "W" Italian bread, and sourdoughs, baguettes and batards. The featured "bread of the week" was called Nonna's Ciabatta, for $2.50.
Smaller items, such as croissants, were merchandised out of a self-service wicker-and-glass merchandiser. Pre-sliced breads and packaged baked goods were available across from the service area.
Out front, associates strive to give the shop a "corner bakery" feel by chatting with shoppers -- just as they do at Wegmans' other ISBs. What goes on in the kitchen, though, is a departure from the traditional bakery format. Whereas 95% of baked goods are made from scratch at the Princeton store, some 60% of the baked goods sold in Bridgewater are parbaked at Wegmans' central production facility in Rochester, N.Y., and shipped to the store four times a week, according to store-level sources.
The chain launched the new production formula at stores in upstate New York. When it opened in October, Bridgewater are parbaked at Wegmans' central production facility in Rochester, N.Y., and shipped to the store four times a week, according to store-level sources.
The chain launched the new production formula at stores in upstate New York. When it opened in October, Bridgewater became the first New Jersey store to adopt it -- and the Manalapan store, which opened May 20, has done the same.
"We're used to scratch bakeries," said a Bridgewater store official. "[But] this central kitchen was the right thing to do."
Officials from Wegmans headquarters declined to comment on why the company operates different format combinations at different stores. Industry observers have said the shortage of skilled labor is a big factor, and has forced many supermarket companies to rethink production -- and consider alternatives to scratch operations.
When they laid the groundwork for the bakery at this store, officials took the distance between Rochester and Bridgewater -- 300 some miles -- and the potential for delivery glitches into consideration. To be on the safe side, the company decided to train staff in the fine art of baking from scratch.
It was a good thing because, early on, there were missed deliveries, said one Wegmans bakery manager. Bakery employees were ready.
"The first time we didn't get a load of ciabatta in, we made them from scratch," she said. "We have the flour, the salt, the yeast. In a pinch, you've got to do what you've to do."
Bakery employees at this store still make 40% of baked goods from scratch, including various cakes and pies, some products in the patisserie and a number of breads, including focaccia and all the multigrain loaves. Breads used for sandwiches sold at the bakery and in the prepared foods area are all made entirely on site.
Consumers have accepted the new format, said a store-level source. "It's a good program," she said. "The product is fresh. That makes a world of difference."
Commenting on the format change, she added, "I know when they did everything from scratch, the bakeries actually lost money. They want them to be profit centers. Now they're turning a profit."
On top of being a money maker, the format at the Bridgewater store improved efficiency. "We can turn around bread very quickly," the source said. "If we had to run a batch from scratch, we'd have to mix it, form it, let it sit, then bake it. The turn-around time could be as long as three hours. This allows us to respond to customers in 20 minutes."
Steps away from the bakery, the patisserie features an array of elegant-looking sweet treats in an opulent setting of black marble countertops and a gold-gilded mirror above the back work station. Less than two years ago, Wegmans launched the authentic French pastry shop at its flagship store in wealthy Pittsford, N.Y. [see "W Patisserie At Wegmans Brings Taste, Look of Paris," SN, June 28, 1999]. The chain introduced customers to fancy, individual pastries, made on-site with French butter and imported chocolate.
It was a high-profile department -- half the space for the pastry shop was made up of a bump-out addition to the front of the store.
Here the pastry shop carries much the same merchandise though the layout is different. Like the one at the Princeton store, this patisserie is in-line with the bakery.
Rich and colorful desserts are sold at the service counter, as well as in a self-service case directly across from the counter. SN observed chocolate mousse cups ($4 each), Chocolate Decadence, a rich chocolate torte with a springtime bunny stenciled on top ($14), chocolate-covered strawberries for $1 each, along with clafoutis apricot, a baked apricot custard for $17. A patisserie signature, meringue cookies called Nicolettes, were offered in a choice of chocolate, pistachio, vanilla and raspberry fillings, for 50 cents apiece.
The best-selling product is the mixed fruit tart, which blends berries with kiwi, pineapple and pear, atop a base vanilla cream. It is sold year-round.
In the self-serve case, SN observed 26-ounce fruit tarts for $15. Nicolettes in 4.5-ounce, 9-pack containers were on sale for $4.50, along with wedges of peanut butter pie ($1.50 each), Wegmans brand of Tiramisu ($6 for eight ounces, and $14 for 20 ounces) were available in clear round plastic containers.
Wegmans operates these high-end pastry shops at six units, including all three New Jersey stores. The one in Bridgewater does the greatest volume of all, store officials told SN, accounting for 25% of ISB sales.