How the other half lives

Somewhere along the line, my sister will chirp at me about this post.

“Really, you’re complaining about Wegmans? My Stop & Shop doesn’t even sell fresh produce.”

Yes, it seems petty and silly, but then again these are the sacrifices you make. Good grocery stores and cheap car insurance, or astronomical costs of living and an hourlong train ride to New York.

One of the things Wegmans does that irritates me to no end is its insistence on varying its inventory from store to store. Now, I’m certain there is a marketing research team that measures how much of each product is sold and countless algorithms used to determine the potential success of a product if introduced at a particular store. I run into this in Syracuse all of the time. Perdue baked chicken tenderloins, Summer Fresh tzatziki, and various flavors of Odwalla and Naked juices are among the handful of items that vary from store to store. None of the above can be purchased at Wegmans Fairmount, but all are available in some form or another at the other locations in Onondaga County.

I expect there to be variances from city to city or state to state, though I was surprised and annoyed to be greeted by a display for tomato pie upon visiting the Nazareth, Pa. location this weekend.

“Bastards.”

The older couple walking out of the store gasped at my exclamation. My relatively tame use of profanity apparently offended their delicate sensibilities. I’m told tomato pie is big in central Pennsylvania. Clearly, our proximity to Utica means nothing to the Wegmans Tomato Pie Department. I got my muffins and moved on.

My return later in the day prompted a trip to the in-store wine dispenser. My friend Phil explained that this marvel dispense full bottles of wine that you pay for on the spot. To purchase, you swipe your driver’s license in the machine along with your payment method. You are then prompted to breath into a small disc to the left of the screen. The built-in breathalyzer measures your blood-alcohol level. If you are sober, a camera beams your image back to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board in Harrisburg. Some poor SOB checks your image against the DMV records and, if you pass, your selection is dispensed.

Of course, you could also go across the street to the LCB superstore, which stocks more than 80 labels, but then Wegmans can’t shill its wine/food pairing choices. The selections were all moderately-priced, between $10-15. Lots of recognizable names — Korbel, Kendall Jackson, Beringer, etc. Knowing the Biblical aversion Pennsylvania has to liquor, I’m sure the state keeps every cent of the sale. That said, it must certainly make up the lost floor space with marketing tie-ins, recommendations and the like.

The purchasing process seemed pretty smooth, as this unsuspecting couple was able to complete their purchase in less than five minutes, from selection to verification to payment. He stood outside of the camera’s range to avoid undergoing the verification process himself. Can’t blame him really.

With Wegmans’ recent entry into the Syracuse liquor market, and its longtime ownership of Rochester’s largest liquor store, I imagine it would have a quiet interest in bringing a similar machine to Upstate New York. It has been one of the major proponents of lifting New York’s antiquated laws against selling wine at grocery. Would NYS require the chain to divest itself of its Rochester liquor store or, at least, show a greater division (on paper or otherwise) between its booze and food divisions? As long as the liquor store lobby is on the winning side of this fight, it won’t matter.

UPDATE: It’s almost as if the state legislature had a sneak preview of this post.

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