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Wegmans Takes a Bite Out of Back to School

Back to school doesn't have to be just about notebooks and new jeans, and, given some cleverness, the season can provide various opportunities for a retailer to underscore the support it provides busy families.

Wegmans is credited with being a clever retailer. The Rochester, N.Y.-based supermarket chain may only have 73 stores, but retailers visit from all over the world to see how, under one roof, it can incorporate everything from inexpensive private label grocery items to fancy cookware to wine departments combining low prices on favorite labels with bottles running in the hundreds of dollars, not to mention gourmet pastry shops and pan-Asian hot food bars that offer the equal of restaurant fare.

The company even operates its very own organic farming operation to help its suppliers with insights on how to handle natural product.

So, it's hardly surprising that Wegmans would be able to take an interesting shot at winning some back to school season credit from shoppers.

It's not trying to compete with Wal-Mart and drug chains on pencils and rulers, or at least not on the basis of those kinds of items, but rather by working its strong point, the food operation.

On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wegmans will offer what it's calling a back to school preview that, essentially, will show shoppers how they can best use the supermarket to feed their families nutritious and even fun food and drinks even if budgets are constrained.

Among the featured presentations:

  • A meal station with a coach who helps shoppers learn how put together the company's feature meal of the week, one that can be made for under $5 per serving.
  • Sampling stands in bakery and grocery where shoppers may learn to appreciate Wegmans whole-grain muffins and whole-grain cereals both for the flavors they provide and the advantage they offer in ensuring families attain their recommended quota of food nutrition.
  • Smoothie tastings in frozen foods that demonstrates how shoppers can enjoy a treat or even quickie school-day breakfast that might be expensive purchased out but affordable made in when combining frozen fruit and Wegmans-brand yogurt.
Other elements of the promotion explain how departments across the store from cheese to produce can contribute to more enjoyable yet affordable breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. And Wegmans is lining up a collection of insulated lunch boxes and thermoses that showcase how it all can translate into economical school meals.

No one doubts that retail is in the amidst of a tough back to school season, one that, industry wide, is likely to fall well short of sales versus the same time frame last year. Still, a few retailers see glimmers of hope in the season, and not just the usual suspects. In a conference call last week Target, which has seen declining results since the inception of the recession, said back to school was sizing up positively.

"Though still early our back to school/back to college results are encouraging, and our August month to date sales have shown modest improvement from recent trends," said Gregg Steinhafel, Target's CEO in a conference call as transcribed by SeekingAlpha. Target has been putting increasing emphasis on back to school in recent years, annually elaborating on previous display initiatives and doing its best to make itself synonymous with the season. Although it may have been having problems with its price perception in the recession, Target's earlier seasonal initiatives might have won over enough consumers previously â€" particularly parents exasperated by the prices at trendy specialty stores â€" that the company has become a go-to location for back to school values even in the recession.

In a way, Wegmans may have detected a similar opportunity, only, as a supermarket operator, the company is using food to demonstrate that it combines a better experience with prices that make it competitive in value terms. In so doing, it reminds occasionally frantic families who might span a wide range of budgets that it can help them cope at a time when the might especially appreciate some.

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