The Buffalo Niagara Partnership represents nearly 2,000 members and a quarter of a million employees in the Buffalo Niagara region.
To celebrate our members and their accomplishments, we have started a Member Spotlight blog series.
This month, we are proud to spotlight a member that was recently recognized for their incredible reputation, Wegmans Food Markets.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike Keating, Senior Vice President at Wegmans’ Buffalo division, and Michele Mehaffy, Consumer Affairs Manager at Wegmans’ Buffalo division, to learn more about why they’re proud to be a Partnership member.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I am thrilled to have the chance to speak with you to learn more about the mission of Wegmans and how you’ve been able to grow into such a successful organization.
A – Mike: We just had a meeting on Monday to talk about the next ten years to discuss our success, to make sure we understand it, so that we can perpetuate it as we continue to grow.
We’re probably going to add half as many stores as we currently have in upcoming years, which works out to opening a few stores per year.
However, we’re very careful about our growth because it’s a challenge to maintain the culture that you enjoy across all of our stores.
We’re a third-generation family-owned business. The Wegmans family is very involved in the day-to-day of the business and they do it out of a sense of love and commitment to the business. The family sets the example and the values that they model flow through the rest of the organization.
Q: That’s really nice to hear. It’s been great to see Wegmans grow and transform throughout my eight years living in the region. I have Celiac disease, so it’s been amazing to see Wegmans expand their product offerings, and even venture into making their own brand of gluten-free products, in recent years. It’s certainly made my life easier!
A – Michele: We’re proud of what we’ve done with our gluten-free offerings. We’ve actually been offering gluten-free products since the early ’90’s.
As you know, we’ve expanded our offerings. We know that 1 percent of the population has Celiac disease and the demand for food that accommodates that diet has dramatically increased since “gluten sensitivity” affects about 5 percent of the population.
We offer more than 2,000 products and over 500 recipes if you go to our website and search “gluten-free.” Also, we do offer vendor gluten-free products as well as our own private label.
The great thing about our own private label is our wellness keys that not only identify “gluten-free,” but also high fiber (HF,) vegan (V,) low calorie (LC,) lactose-free (LF) and many other categories.
We want to give customers that easy access to know what they are purchasing, and our team of nutritionists investigates and verifies all ingredients.
Aside from offering gluten-free products on our shelves, we’ve started making gluten-free baked items in recent years. We’ve gone out of our way to create some of those popular items such as brownies, cookies, cupcakes, etc. And there’s more to come, so stay tuned!
Essentially, we want people with Celiac to still be able to enjoy all of the great food that everyone else can. Our gluten-free baked goods are something everyone can enjoy, whether or not they have Celiac.
Q: I am eager to see what you introduce next! I’ve always loved the atmosphere when shopping at Wegmans. With multiple locations throughout the country, and plans to continue expanding, how do you keep the organizational culture so intact throughout stores across different states?
A – Michele: Our company philosophy is that we’ll only be successful if we fill the need of our people first. It’s all about taking care of your employees first and foremost, so they in turn can take care of your customers.
Q: That’s great to hear. I definitely agree.
A – Michele: You often hear “the customer comes first,” at many stores. It’s an interesting concept to think of because, in Wegmans world, our employees are our most important asset.
If our employees are happy, they’re taking care of our customers. This value is really established the moment people start working.
We have five different values: caring (about the well-being of our people,) high standards (that create a climate of excellence,) making a difference in the communities we serve, respecting and listening to our people and empowering our people to make decisions to improve their work environment to benefit our customers and the company as a whole.
These values are what guide us in our daily operations and are what keeps our culture as strong and recognizable as it is.
Q: I know that you’ve been a member of the Partnership since 2007. What about your relationship with the Partnership has changed over the years? Are there any specific benefits or services you’ve seen evolve since when you first joined as a member?
A – Mike: Honestly, while we’ve been members since 2007, we have only recently become active members. Until recently, we didn’t necessarily see that the culture of the Partnership was one that fit with ours.
What I’ve seen now, in the last few years, is much more inclusive; big businesses, small business, retail and manufacturing. The Partnership suits business across all sizes and sectors, and with Dottie’s leadership we are excited to be members.
This is a very exciting time for Western New York and it’s all born from a new cooperative spirit of enterprise where people are partnering and collaborating.
I think the Partnership is one of the organizations that’s taking a lead on that, and that stems from the leadership of your organization.
Q: Thank you. It’s extremely rewarding to hear that you can see and feel that change in perception. Mike, I know that you’re actively involved in one of our councils. What inspired you to get involved and what has your experience been like?
A – Mike: I just recently put my interest forth in the Workforce Development council. I think that Workforce Development is an enormous challenge and it’s central to what we do at Wegmans.
A part-time Wegmans job is something like a “prep school” for a full-time job.
We believe that we are helping to build the character and basic employment skills that will carry people forward in a successful way throughout their careers. That is why workforce development is so important to us.
Similarly, for over 25 years now, we’ve been working with Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection and have been involved in their work scholarship program that helps the urban youth graduate from high school.
The premise of the program is that if you can put an additional caring adult in their lives to help them with basic skill development, as well as help them overcome the challenges that they typically face, you have a much greater chance at helping these young students succeed.
It’s why I signed up for the council; I’m very eager to help the region move forward with this issue.
Q: It’s so great to hear how committed you are to bettering the educational system, as it definitely is a tremendous workforce development issue for the region. Are there any challenges or opportunities that you currently face that you think the Partnership might be able to assist in?
A – Mike: From a business standpoint, developing the workforce of the future is definitely a challenge as we continue to grow at an ever-increasing rate.
I think that the Workforce Development council will enable me to learn a lot to share with the rest of the company, especially in regards to how we can perpetuate our culture as we continue to grow.
One of the main reasons we, and other companies, decide to become members of the Partnership is relationship building.
You never know when a friend you made in the board room is going to be someone you need to call on to help you with a challenge you’re facing.
So, while there aren’t any immediate challenges that the Partnership can assist us with, I know that I will face challenges in the future that I’ll be able to call on my friends that I’ve made through the Partnership to help me overcome those obstacles.
Q: That’s great to hear. It’s definitely our goal to bring people together because we realize these relationships help to strengthen the overall business climate in the region.
A – Mike: Thanks to the Partnership, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, perspectives and challenges.
Most of us end up spending our time caught up in our own sector, networking with people from the same industry. The Partnership, and the Workforce Development council, provides me the opportunity to break out of that.
I look forward to making new friends with broad interests and experiences that I will have the opportunity to learn from.
Q: That’s a great way of looking at it and I couldn’t agree more. Have you had any recent accomplishments that you’d like the community to be aware of? For example, I know that Wegmans topped the list of the 100 most visible companies in Harris Poll’s 16th annual Reputation Quotient Study. Congratulations, that is truly an incredible accomplishment.
A – Michele: The Harris Poll news was really exciting! Having never been on that list before, it was obviously a pleasant surprise.
It’s also really nice to be in good company with these other national companies that were recognized in the poll.
When it comes down to it, it really reinforces what we’ve always thought: it starts with our people.
If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. It all boils down to treating people with respect and empowering them to make decisions that serve both them and the company as a whole.
I’ve heard in the community that there is a great culture that exists inside the stores. When people find out that I work at Wegmans, they often tell me “everyone looks so happy!”
Q: That must be so nice to hear.
A – Michele: Definitely. In regards to other accomplishments, we’ve been on Fortune Magazine’s “Top 100 list” (of places to work for,) for 17 years. We’re very proud.
A – Mike: Your earn your reputation every day based on the actions of your employees. I think we are so excited about the Harris Poll honor because it’s confirmation that our culture is working.
Our employees have the freedom to do the right thing for the customer in the moment.
We certainly make our share of mistakes but when we do, we own up to it. We’re honest and in front of it. We make sure that we learn from it.
Q: That’s great! Other than putting your employees first, what do you think Wegmans does that has helped it establish such a strong, positive reputation?
A – Michele: We’ve always been one step ahead of the industry as a whole. We’re always thinking ahead and can see where the trends are going in terms of our customers and what they’re interested in.
We aren’t a reactive company; we are forward thinking and always looking to what we think the future of consumer preferences will be.
For example, I don’t know if you saw our recent menu magazine but we have an “eat well, live well” approach to help steer our customers in the direction of healthier choices.
We do that by offering food that is affordable, and recipes that help people build a healthier lifestyle.
Our latest chapter to our “eat well, live well” program is about cutting adding sugars because we know the dangers of heart disease. This really is our way of helping people have that information about some of the dangers of added sugars in their diet; sugars they might not even think about.
We also know that snacking is very popular. In our latest menu magazine, we have several “power-packed” snacks that are healthy and nutritional. For example, hummus, carrots, etc. It’s filled with easy snack ideas you can make at home.
We want to help our customers by providing great, go-to, healthier options for snacking.
Q: So, I know you’re always hiring. Are there any specific job opportunities in the Buffalo Niagara region that you’d like to draw attention to?
A – Michele: We have three different categories we are looking for right now.
One is “front-end service team leaders,” which is the customer service area where you see all of the registers. For this management-training type role, we’re looking for people interested in leading a group of motivated people.
We also need overnight management in various departments depending on the stores.
Our biggest availability is culinary. Culinary is extremely important to us as we grow our prepared foods section of our stores, so having that culinary expertise is so important to us because it helps to set us apart from other stores.
We get some very talented chefs but we’re always looking to fill that culinary role in our stores so they can continue to grow. Many of our shoppers are interested in food in another level.
We want to hire people who enjoy food and who enjoy sharing information about food.
Q: That’s wonderful! I definitely have noticed an increase in the prepared foods offerings at your stores. So, what would you say you’re most looking forward to benefiting from as a member of the Partnership in the upcoming year?
A – Mike: In addition to being excited about being a part of the Workforce Development council, it’s the opportunity to build new relationships and learn from folks I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interact with without the Partnership.
We all want to do our part to move this region forward and I’m hoping we at Wegmans can really help in that regard.
Interested in being a part of our Member Spotlight blog series? Contact our Content Marketing Specialist, Julia Jornsay-Silverberg.