I just completed an 8,000 mile driving trip around much of the U. S. This is an annual trip that I have done for my business for the last 20 years or so. I also do a similar 5,000 mile + trip each year in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In past years I have focused on bbq, fried chicken, steak, pizza and any other "roadfood" or indulgence to break up the monotmony and loneliness of travel so much away from home. Over the years I have also been fortunate to eat most everywhere, having done the research even before Jane and Michael Stern,
Chowhound or others emerged in the market.
One of my primary interests over this time has been grocery stores. From Byerly's in Minneapolis to Larry's Markets in Seattle to Schnuck's in St. Louis, even Stew Leonard's in Connecticut and Carrefour in France-I've walked down a lot of aisles. I've also been in a lot of markets including Barcelona and Pike Place.
I say all of this because on this trip my focus was on grocery stores, "big box" category killers if you will which included Woodman's and Wegman's.
Woodman's has a handful of 225,000 to 250,000 square foot stores in Wisconsin and Illinois which are devoted exclusively to groceries. In both their Rockford and Kenosha stores the overall ambience was of a cut rate food warehouse with low ceilings (yes, low ceilings in a 250,000 square foot building). Stock was placed on shelving in cut out boxes with an excellent but "middle class" selection. This means that every size of Heinz ketchup was on the shelf along with every variety. For each there was at least three times as much inventory as what a typical market would carry. But there was no homemade ketchup. Little variety other than what would be typical for a midwestern store. For olive oil the shelves were 20 feet long and six high. But nothing exceptioal. Only the same brands found in other stores. Not even what would typically be found in Whole Foods or gourmet markets. The cheese cases cases, not counter) were incredibly disappointing, especially for Wisconsin. Just not a great deal of variety beyond mainstream America. No Coach Farm, nothing adventurous beyond that which, again, could be found elsewhere. Just an awful lot of the same mediocre supply when I had expected boutique cheese with an emphasis on small producers.
Woodman's does NOT have a butcher, fish monger, snack bar, pizza oven, food court, candy maker, boutique bakery. Woodman's does not have the feeling in any part of its seemingly endless low ceilinged aisles that even approaches what a market should feel like. Overall Woodman's, which is actually somewhat larger than even a Super Wal Mart (yes, in Kenosha), is an incredible waste of floor space with a total absence of design and feeling. I honestly believe these stores will not endure. They were huge disappointments and if anyone connected with them follows these boards you should look east to know how to do it right.
Wegman's best stores are it's most recent in Princeton, NJ and Allentown, PA. They are about 125 to 130,000 square feet of SELLING AREA. (Not the total store which is close to 200,000 square feet. These two stores are about 80% the size of Woodman's Kenosha store.)
Both stores include virtually everything that Woodman's does not have. From a Lexington or Barcelona market ambience (a true "food hall") to virtually every conceivable variety of food presentation or preparation that can be presented under one roof: food courts, demonstration kitchen, full service restaurant, cheese counters almost approaching Europe and on and on and on. Wegman's is the best of any grocery store that I have found anywhere.
It is just remarkable to me that one company could do so many things right while another can do so many things wrong.