This article appeared in the MetroWest Daily News on Aug. 16
When it comes to grocery shopping, many customers are creatures of both convenience and habit, but the emergence of big new stores show even loyal shoppers are subject to stray for a new experience.
Wegmans Food Market is set to open a two-story store in the Natick Mall in 2017, the second in MetroWest. The New York-based grocery chain will be entering a market already flooded with competition, but spokeswoman Jeanne Colleluori said the company isn’t worried about attracting customers.
As mom and pop stores like Hopkinton’s recently closed Colella’s are on their way out, big stores like Wegmans and Whole Foods Market are finding ways to attract customers from a large region by making themselves a destination. Shoppers don’t always want groceries to be a big to-do, however, keeping stores like Stop & Shop popular as the convenient neighborhood market.
Colleluori said Wegmans has a unique attraction in Massachusetts, as both a store with more than the typical offerings and one with relatively few locations in the state. With that in mind, Colleluori said entering an area already flooded with competition isn’t a concern. Wegmans announced on Aug. 4 plans for a 125,000-square-foot store located in the Natick Mall. Most of the often-large stores feature extensive prepared food section, a salad bar, an in-store café, a beauty and pharmacy aisle and more.
“We are aware of competition, but we try to focus on what we do well and make sure we’re delivering,” Colleluori said. “We focus on making sure we’ve got high quality products in our stores so our customers aren’t disappointed.”
Similarly, Whole Foods representative Heather McCready said the store doesn’t pay much attention to competition.
“Competition, while healthy because it keeps us continuously striving for our best, is not a top consideration because none of our competitors offer exactly what we do,” McCready said. “Our shoppers appreciate that we offer only the highest quality natural and organic products that have all met our strict quality standards.”
In Framingham alone, there are around five chain grocery stores for shoppers to choose from. There are more just over the border in Natick and Ashland. With so many options, Supermarket News retail editor Jon Springer said stores like Wegmans and Whole Foods are somewhat exempt from competition because they each offer something other stores don’t.
“Wegmans, between them and Whole Foods, they’ve really raised the bar in terms of what it takes to compete as supermarkets,” Springer said.
Customers shopping in the Wegmans in Northborough said they enjoy the variety and experience of the store. Some said it’s a break from typical grocery store monotony, while others compared it to being at an indoor market with multiple vendors.
Because of the specialty offerings, Springer said Wegmans and Whole Foods can count on customers from a larger geographical area than a Stop & Shop or Market Basket.
“A store like Wegmans, which is bigger and they tend to do bigger volumes, those stores would draw from a wider range than a neighborhood Stop & Shop might,” Springer said. “People would drive further to get there, so they don’t need to space them as closely together.”
Colleluori confirmed Springer’s thoughts.
“Especially in a state such as Massachusetts where we don’t have a lot of stores yet, we do know we tend to draw from a greater distance,” she said. “We do keep that in mind.”
Colleluori would not say how wide a market Wegmans considers when scouting a new store location.
McCready of Whole Foods said the store also depends on customers traveling to buy organic products.
“It is not unusual for shoppers to travel significant distances in order to stock up in our store; however, it is our growth goal that one day they won’t have to travel quite so far,” she said.
Stores such as Stop & Shop, Market Basket and Hannaford, Springer said, are more useful for everyday needs. In a statement, Stop & Shop said it is proud to be a neighborhood market.
“Our associates offer exceptional customer service and each and every Stop & Shop store is an active and supportive community member,” the statement reads. “We are proud to be considered by our MetroWest customers as their ‘neighborhood grocery store.’ It is because of these brand qualities that Stop & Shop stands out among the competition.”
Shoppers in a Framingham Stop & Shop said they frequent the market because it has reasonable prices and is close to home. One shopper called Stop & Shop a “middle ground place,” saying food doesn’t need to be complicated.
Though Springer said people are willing to travel for the Wegmans experience or the Whole Foods products, he said convenience is still a big factor in where people do the bulk of their shopping, meaning the new Wegmans location is unlikely to heavily damage business at other area grocery stores.
“Most people want to shop near where they live,” Springer said. “For a store like Wegmans, it wouldn’t be the first place you think of if you just need milk and eggs or whatever.”
This is likely why an area like Natick can sustain both a new Wegmans and a handful of other grocery stores both in town and minutes over the town line. People still want convenience, but occasionally they seek something new.
“Your consideration of Wegmans would be, I want to get a full basket of stuff. By occasion, you would consider smaller trips to other stores,” Springer said. “People still tend to shop for food close to where they live.”
As more and more stores enter the market, Springer said it not only means more choice for consumers, but often better choice. As Wegmans hits Natick as both a grocery store and an attraction, Springer said existing stores will have to raise the bar to compete.
“A lot of stores … they’ll need to invest in their physical plants,” he said. “It will keep them on their toes. From that standpoint, it may result in better food, better stores.”
Daily News correspondent Hadley Barndollar contributed to this story.