Supplier Spotlight: Water Lilies
04/25/2023 · Our Business
If you’ve ever enjoyed egg rolls, potstickers, dumplings, or lo mein noodles from Wegmans, chances are you’ve tried one of Water Lilies’ products. For over 20 years, Wegmans has partnered with Water Lilies to manufacture dozens of our private-label products including frozen Asian appetizers, tofu, noodles, and sauces that are available throughout our grocery, frozen foods, prepared foods, and deli departments.
Water Lilies CEO, Peter Lee, is the second generation to run the business. His parents started the company in 1995, after moving to the United States from Taiwan five years earlier.
“My parents immigrated to the United States for better education for me and my siblings,” said Peter. “English was a barrier, so they decided to use food as the language to connect with others. Being that my parents were entrepreneurs at heart, they started cooking and packaging traditional Taiwanese dishes at our home kitchen and began selling them to nearby temples. The business gained traction and we began to sell to local supermarkets. By 1995 we opened our first facility.”
Peter took over the company in 2004, inheriting the already established relationship with Wegmans. Water Lilies first started supplying our prepared foods departments with egg rolls, and by 2004 they were creating multiple items for our stores. The company was quickly running out of space in their 6,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Brooklyn, New York, so in 2006, they relocated to a 48,000 square foot facility in Astoria, Queens.
“It was there that we started our first automated line,” said Peter. “We began with our dumpling line and a few years later we automated our egg roll line. During that time to meet the growing demand, we also turned our production into a three-shift operation.”
Focusing on Food Safety
As Water Lilies grew and added new technology, food safety was always top of mind.
“From the very beginning, Wegmans conducted audits for Water Lilies, and we learned a lot from the Wegmans team,” said Peter. “We see food safety and audits as a learning experience. As we continued to grow our business with Wegmans and other customers, we would incorporate their food safety guidelines with ours to strengthen our program to be even more stringent.”
Water Lilies is now SQF certified and follows specific food safety programs throughout their facility, from receiving ingredients, to inspecting finished product, monitoring storage conditions, tracking metal detection, running sensory tests, regulating temperatures, environmental testing, and more. Overall, Water Lilies far exceeds what is required at most USDA facilities.
Innovation is also a top priority for Peter and his team. Wegmans merchants and chefs partner closely with the Water Lilies Research and Development team to develop recipes and ensure new products meet our specifications.
“Water Lilies has a great R&D team, and we always work together,” said Takahiro Hachiya, Wegmans sushi category merchant. “A lot of Wegmans items are Food You Feel Good About and it’s very difficult to make a great tasting product with no artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Peter and Water Lilies do a great job making delicious products that meet our high standards.”
Recently, Wegmans merchants had an idea for a new sauce, and they approached Peter and his team for help with bringing it to life. Water Lilies’ R&D team came to Wegmans’ main office to test the recipe with our chefs.
“Our R&D team brought all the ingredients up to Rochester for a development session. Instead of shipping revisions back and forth, the chefs received real-time feedback and were able to adjust and finalize the formulation on the spot,” explained Peter.
A Prosperous Partnership
In 2020, Water Lilies again outgrew their space and relocated to Bayshore on Long Island. Their new building is 400,000 square feet, providing ample space for them to continue to expand. The Water Lilies team has also grown considerably in the nearly 20 years Peter has run the company.
“When I took over the business, we were a team of about 15 people. By the time we left Astoria, we grew to 150 team members, and today we are close to 450,” said Peter.
Water Lilies now manufactures nearly 60 items for Wegmans. Takahiro credits our lengthy partnership to Water Lilies’ attention to detail, as well as Peter’s responsiveness and honesty.
“What I really like about Water Lilies and Peter is they are not just trying to sell us a product, but instead they’re always thinking about how we’ll utilize the product in our stores. They think about pack size, and shelf life, so we don’t waste anything,” said Takahiro. “I like doing business with Water Lilies because they’re honest, very quick to respond, proactive, and they come up with a great product. We truly feel they are a great partner to grow the business together.”