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What makes Wegmans great


Over the Family Day weekend, I headed for an overnight trip to Buffalo, N.Y. With all the talk about Target (only a few weeks until they launch their first stores in Canada!), it was a good time to see what was going on at the Wegmans supermarket in Buffalo and get back to the basics of good grocery retailing.

As soon as you walk into the store, you're greeted by the fresh produce and HMR on the right.

It was past 9 p.m. when I toured the store, but I could see that during peak times the area would be buzzing with customers picking up that night's dinner or a quick bite to go. There's everything from sushi, to pizza, to subs and the Asian wokery where chefs create hot, savoury Asian-style dishes fresh, right in the store, by specially trained chefs.

Walking through the produce area, it was the subtle touches that jumped out.

The organic produce was clearly marked with a Wegmans Organic green sign.

There was a mushroom bar, complete with oils and dressings and clear signs on the various types of mushrooms, their flavour profile and how to use them in cooking.

I loved the way fresh herbs were displayed, on hooks for easy access, and signage "Recipe-ready Fresh Herbs".

What I found unique was the extensive array of prepared meats--marinated and heat-and-serve offerings. This spoke to the trend that food experts have been talking about this year: meal kits that give non-chefs the opportunity to cook restaurant-inspired meals.

There were two full refrigerated cases of these ready-to-cook entrées at this Wegmans promising "no prep, no clean-up". Offerings included pork tenderloin with apple and raisin stuffing, and Wegmans over-ready beef meatloaf.

Throughout my shop I encountered some interesting end caps:

There was a superfoods 2013 endcap featuring green coffee and white chia seed.

There was an "Asian inspiration" endcap highlighting the extensive array of international and ethnic food.

If you've picked up our current issue that's just out (February 2013), there's a feature on the tea category that looks at the growth of premium loose leaf teas.

Tea certainly was a big part of the offer at this Wegmans store, where along with premium loose-leaf tea, there were two full aisles of ready-to-drink tea, green tea, herbal tea, and black tea, along with a smaller selection of specialty waters.

I loved the way the store offered meal ideas. Next to a yogurt case, there was a trail mix bar where people could make their own mix (seeing as granola and yogurt seem to be a popular pairing).

Similarly, if Ontario grocers ever get to sell alcohol in store, we only need to look to Wegmans to see how to merchandise it thoughtfully.

Wines, not surprisingly, were positioned next to refrigerated cheese, and near the specialty cheese department.

And with all the buzz surrounding craft beers, Wegmans had a display for customers to craft their own beer.

Apart from food, there was some cool non-food products at the store. There was a Playmobil set exclusive to Wegmans, and a selection of earth-friendly wooden toys.

The best part of the store came at the end, when I came across a child-care centre on site. Parents can drop off their kids and shop in peace. That's something grocers here should consider borrowing from their southern counterparts.

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