It’s a question on the minds of many: How will other supermarkets in Maryland respond to the expansion of Wegmans?
One supermarket consultant, in an interview with Patch, puts it bluntly.
“There’s really not a whole lot they can do,” said David Livingston, with the consulting firm Supermarket Location Research, in Waukesha, WI.
That doesn’t mean that chains across the region haven’t tried to go up against the privately held upscale supermarket chain based in Rochester, NY. Places that were once just spots to get groceries are now offering Wi-Fi, special discounts—even free merchandise, in addition to undergoing renovations, with the opening of a nearby Wegmans.
In some cases, grocers simply called it quits, saying it wasn’t worth trying.
Wegmans has 79 stores, with four in Maryland. A new Germantown store is expected to open in spring 2013, according to the company.
Examples of the Wegmans effect on other grocers are varied.
- In advance of the Wegmans opening in Abingdon, a nearby Giant Food store celebrated renovations and expansion of its organic food selection, according to Explore Hartford. Klein’s Shoprite also underwent upgrades, the paper reported, unveiling a 10,000 square foot expansion and a drive-through grocery service.
- Grocers in the suburbs of Worcester, MA, began sending out coupons this month for free merchandise after Wegmans initially distributed coupons for free store-brand items, a tactic one shopper called “coupon madness,” reported the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
- When a Wegmans opening in Prince George’s County, Safeway announced several closings in the area, reported the Gazette in June. A spokesman directly attributed one store’s closing to competition from Wegmans. “It’s better to close it than upgrade and not get much return,” he told the paper.
Livingston, the supermarket consultant, said Giant Food has been particularly hurt by the expansion of Wegmans.
“Wegmans pretty much makes sport out of Giant wherever they’ve gone,” he said.
Jamie Miller, a Giant spokesman, noted that Wegmans has been in the market for several years, and Giant has still been able to expand its market share.
“Competition forces us to be better—that benefits the consumer overall,” he said in an interview. “We’ve been here over 75 years. We’re the first in this market and we’ll be here in the long haul.”
Officials from Harris Teeter, which also has a strong presence in Maryland, did not respond directly to questions Friday but highlighted the chain’s freshly prepared takeout meals, farmers markets and other store promotions.
Independent grocers are also making changes.
Paul Choe, owner of The Family Market in Columbia, said he knew about the impending Wegmans when he opened his internationally themed grocery store in the 54,000 square-foot former Safeway space at the Long Reach Village Center late last year.
The store, in addition to offering unique international items, has set up a lounge with Wi-Fi, he said.
“It’s an upgraded kind of setting we tried to create, so we would at least prevent some of the customers going to an upgraded supermarket like Wegmans,” he said, adding, “I’m pretty sure we’ll lose some customers initially, but we’re pretty sure the customer will come back.”