Wegmans Learns By Doing, Down on the Farm

Discussion
Jun 10, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Wegmans’ Jim Heberle is excited. "We aimed for ripe
tomatoes before Memorial Day, and we made it," he told Syracuse’s Post-Standard newspaper.

The
we Mr. Heberle referred to are all of the people working on Wegmans’
Organic Research Farm in Canandaigua, N.Y. The why behind his excitement?
— "because
one of our goals is to find ways to extend the growing season in the Northeast."

According
to The Post-Standard report, Wegmans was able to move up the
date for picking its tomatoes because of changes it made to the compost it
uses and by placing a hoop house over the soil to protect plants from the
cold. The discovery is a positive for the grocer, along with its consumers
who will be able to enjoy the locally-grown produce earlier than usual. Other
farmers who supply the chain will also benefit.

"We set aside time each year to meet with local growers, have them tour
our farm, and exchange information about what we’ve all learned during
the most recent growing season," said Jamie Robinson, a team leader along
with Mr. Heberle at the farm. "It’s a two-way street that helps
everybody."

The Wegmans’ farm grows 14 varieties of cherry and grape
tomatoes, which are sold in the chain’s stores in Pittsford and Canandaigua,
NY as well as its Next Door Bar and Grill restaurant.

Discussion Questions: What are your thoughts on Wegmans’ approach to running
its Organic Research Farm? Do you see more food retailers getting into farming?

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12 Comments on "Wegmans Learns By Doing, Down on the Farm"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Congratulations to Wegmans and their Organic Research Farm in Canandaigua, N.Y. for producing a delicious ripe tomato even before Memorial Day. These are the little things that mean so much to consumers while enhancing image and point of differentiation for one retail chain vs. another. Well done!

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Wegmans continues to set the standard for excellence in regional grocery by demonstrating not only understanding, but willingness to act on key trends that are emerging quickly in the American consumer/shopper mindset. I recently saw a presentation (by Iconoculture) that quoted the startling fact that fewer than 20% of American trust big food companies to develop and sell safe and healthy food products. The trust has moved to small suppliers, including local farms and growers. The pervasive consumer mindset presented by Iconoculture is “if small, it’s safe, and safe = healthy; so small = healthy”

As Wegmans continues to enhance its image with small and local food activities, they make a definitive move in the right direction. It will be hard for major retailers to mirror this effort, but other regional grocers could take note and become fast followers.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

“Stick to the knitting” This is not the portion of the Supply Chain that grocers can or should play in…the Wegman family is a group that can pull this off on a number of levels–PR, local support, building communities, etc.

Other grocers can deliver on the strategy by effectively promoting at in-store, that their produce is locally grown. No need to “own” the field. Farming is a tough business, with a great number of costs not considered by individuals focused on taking care of retail stores. Let the farmers take care of that end.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
10 years 10 months ago
Wegmans’ approach to building relationships with local producers and expanding its offerings of the same is very progressive. There are a number of organizations who are working with state agencies and others to promote an infrastructure that supports local production and purchasing. If I were consulting with Wegmans, I would evaluate their overall structure and strategy related to local purchasing and avoid focusing on short-term wins to the detriment of longer, more sustainable capability development. I personally don’t view harvesting tomatoes in NY before Memorial Day as a sustainable solution or one to focus on. When you break down “how” it was accomplished, it is clear to me that it follows the same old track of adding costly, and in some cases non-renewable, resources to artificially accomplish the goal. The article points out that in addition to amending the soil with rich compost (good, but an expensive resource), utilizing cones over each individual plant to moderate temperatures (another added expense) the farm also employs the use of heaters at night to keep the temperatures around… Read more »
Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Wegmans has become the market innovator in many ways and the addition of products from its own farms is further evidence of ongoing efforts to delight its customers.

Consumers who purchase locally grown products do so out of deeply held beliefs. To this demographic, local means fresh, better quality, authenticity, community and civic responsibility. While it may not fit strategically or be cost effective for other retailers to operate their own farms, local sourcing should be a given and not limited to fresh products.

Sandy Miller
Guest
Sandy Miller
10 years 10 months ago

Wegmans, as usual, is right on target. As you see me frequently emphasizing, this provides strong Reasons to Buy(TM).

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Wegmans has been a company rich with innovation. It is a special business with a special culture headed by a Wegman for three generations. They do not take what they do lightly or willy-nilly. All of their activities are well thought out and well researched.

This activity fits the Wegmans philosophy and operating mantra. But, other retailers would take care to copying such an endeavor. I can not think of another retailer that I would recommend this to, anymore that I would recommend that all retailers should adopt the Wegmans retailing model.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
10 years 10 months ago

Wegmans shows why they maintain the loyalty of so many shoppers. Many are focused on healthier eating; local produce is a real draw. Developing an organic farming operation is taking it to the next level. Safer products, transparent sourcing, and local investment all resonate with shoppers.

Differentiation is the key to success for a regional retailer, and Wegmans does it once again with a first-class approach. The fresh tomato by Memorial Day; great opening promotion! They really have our attention–this will bring shoppers in, who will then take the time to explore what is on offer and tell their friends.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Wegmans again is ahead of the pack when it comes to thinking not only outside the box but also even pushing the limits of the box. I congratulate them for thinking more about their customers first and themselves later. This is not so much about pushing the profit needle as it is about getting a better product to the consumer, faster.

I am hard pressed to think other grocery chains will follow suit. I get the sense they don’t think they have to in order to maintain their customer base. But watch out if Walmart decides to do it. Then others will take serious notice. Somehow 800 lb. gorillas gather more attention than a smaller regional.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Wegmans is a unique operator not afraid to take risks. They operated their own egg farm for awhile and took a terrible beating in the press. Let’s hope this tomato farm project doesn’t backfire and that there is more focus on who is picking the tomatoes (and how much they are paid) rather than the kind of tomatoes grown.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 10 months ago

Offering local organic tomatoes is the perfect example of what makes Wegmans an excellent marketer. What a wonderful way to communicate to customers that Wegmans cares about the environment and wants to offer new choices in the store.

I disagree with Charles Walsh when he says harvesting tomatoes in NY before Memorial Day is not one to focus on. Wegmans decided to start their own organic farm so they could learn more about organic farming and work with local farmers in the process. Unlike most retailers, they have the interest and money to devote to such an endeavor.

Although I don’t live in New York, I bet they will sell out of these tomatoes as quickly as they are delivered to the store.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
10 years 10 months ago

It is a great idea even if it was just for marketing purposes.

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