PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Wegmans Food Markets has opened a French patisserie here in its flagship store and it looks like it's a hit with customers.
The upscale pastry shop, which opened June 11, was crowded all afternoon on its first weekend, said local observers. Since then, SN has talked to consumers who visited the shop.
Fancy, individual pastries, made on-site with French butter and imported chocolate, are selling for $4 to $6. Larger sizes are $15 to $47. But it's not the prices customers talk about; it's the products' quality and the "elegant atmosphere."
One customer said her mother, who had just returned from Paris, remarked that Wegmans' patisserie has all the qualities of those in France, plus something most French patisseries don't have: color.
"My mother said this is great, but different, because in real French patisseries you rarely see fruit. Here, fruit tarts and fruit toppings [in addition to chocolate creations] add color. I think it's a French patisserie modified to American tastes," said the customer, a loyal Wegmans shopper.
Subdued lighting, light brown and cream-colored walls, high-end display cases that are spotlighted, associates clad in smocks and black berets, and artful displays, help to create an ambiance that's "decidedly Parisian," said another customer.
That's not surprising since the Rochester-based independent recruited the help of Pierre Herme, a renowned French pastry chef and owner of a Paris patisserie, to get the concept up and running here. (Herme's recently published "Desserts by Pierre Herme" won this year's Julia Child award for best cookbook).
Herme trained Nicole Wegman, category manager of desserts for the 58-unit supermarket chain, at his Paris patisserie, La Dure, prior to the opening here. Wegman, the driving force behind the launch, is the daughter of the chain's president, Danny Wegman.
She and Herme are currently overseeing the operation and training staff.
The pastry shop, which Wegmans has called "W Patisserie," is situated at the front of the store's Market Cafe. The cafe, which has undergone a number of tweakings since this store opened two years ago, embodies the chain's latest combination of food-service elements. (See "Take-Out Key to Wegmans' New Recipe at Prototype," SN, Sept. 1, 1997; "Dynamic Direction: Wegmans' New Prototype Shows the Chain Moving Toward More Take-Home Items in Its Prepared-Food Program," SN, Dec. 1, 1997; and "Wegmans Sushi Bar Pushed Into Prominence," SN, Aug. 17, 1998.)
About half of the 2,000-square-foot patisserie's space is comprised of a newly constructed, bump-out addition to the front of the store, adjacent to the entry into the Market Cafe. The other half of the patisserie occupies Market Cafe space that had formerly been used for a self-service beverage case and seasonal displays.
The patisserie's showcases are arranged in an L-shape, with the long leg of the L running about 30 to 40 feet; the short leg, about 8 feet. Customers order and receive their packaged items and then move on to the cash register, which is located near the patisserie's exit. The exit-entry to W Patisserie is almost directly across the aisle from the in-store bakery.
The add-on section that extends into the parking lot houses the production area. Customers can look through windows from outside and see the pastries being made, but there is no separate entrance from outside.
One local consultant who works with supermarkets told SN he sees W Patisserie as a smart move on the part of Wegmans.
"It's through this type of concept that the chain creates a sustainable competitive advantage. It really makes them somewhat immune to competition," said Jim Riesenburger, managing partner in Riesenburger, Leenhouts & Associates, a Rochester-based consulting firm..
The literature for the patisserie includes images of an emerging customer favorite: the Papillote Praline, or praline purse. It's hazelnut meringue and hazelnut cream encased in milk chocolate leaves that appear to be pulled up with a drawstring as a purse might be.
The individual size Papillote Praline, for $4.95, is about 3 inches in diameter and about 3 inches tall. Larger sizes are available. The largest, which is 6 to 8 inches across and about 5 inches tall, retails for $47.
One customer said she appreciates the fact that most of the large cakes, tarts and pastries are available in small sizes, too.
"You can try one of the smaller ones before buying a whole cake or bigger pastry. You can actually buy an individual size and sit down there to eat it," she said.
Four small, marble-topped tables with ice cream shop-type chairs are situated on one side of the patisserie. More seating is also available nearby in the Market Cafe. The store's espresso bar is adjacent to the operation.
Looking at the menu items, Riesenburger said, the demographics here are ideal for making the patisserie a profitable venture. "The price points are there. The residents around here have money and they travel a lot. They're cosmopolitan. They're predisposed to appreciating a concept like this," he said.
The patisserie, located as it is inside the store, provides a convenience for grocery shoppers, said a Wegmans customer who works nearby.
"There's an independently owned patisserie about 4 miles away, but I don't think they'd be competition. I think people, who wouldn't have stopped there, might go to Wegmans' patisserie because it's right there inside the store," he said.
He pointed out that the high-end pastries are either an impulse buy, or, if they're a planned purchase, easier to get because it's one-stop shopping.
He said he bought several meringue cookies last weekend in different flavors for 50 cents each. Called Nicolettes, in honor of Nicole Wegman, the filled cookies are traditional Swiss delicacies. They're about an inch and a half in diameter.
Small items such as the Nicolettes are wrapped in colored tissue paper and packaged in shiny green bags with the W Patisserie name and logo on it. Another customer who bought two individual strawberry-kiwi tarts said his purchase was packed in a small box and tied with an "elegant-looking" ribbon.
Such upscale touches are everywhere. The "menu" looks like a program or invitation. Printed on heavy, shiny stock, it includes the French names, descriptions, and phonetic pronunciations of all pastries offered. It also includes full-color photos of some of the individual pastries, and features the praline purse on the front cover. Cards attached to the ribbon on boxed items also sport a picture of the praline purse.
Wegmans officials could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman, earlier this spring, however, told the consumer press that the concept would be duplicated at a new Wegmans unit set to open in Princeton, N.J., in August.