Discovering the Best Wine, Beer, and Spirits

Ever wonder how retailers determine what mix of products make it to their shelves? In an industry as vast as wine, beer, and spirits, bringing together a carefully curated product selection and creating a one-of-a-kind shopping experience takes time, dedication, and passion. Our merchant team searches across the globe and close to home to source the highest quality products and build relationships with winemakers, brewers, and distillers to offer our customers an extensive selection, inclusive of options they can’t find anywhere else.

“Whether you enjoy an occasional drink, are looking to expand your palate, or are a connoisseur, our goal is to offer a vast selection of options and a knowledgeable team that can help you discover products you’ll love,” explains Geoff Greble, Wegmans wine, beer, and spirits group manager.

The Role of a Merchant

The role of the wine, beer and spirits Merchants – Mark Agnello, Jeff Morse, Mary Zink and John Kozlowski – is two pronged. It starts with quality, finding top-notch producers and products, and then, just as importantly, understanding what customers want. As with most industries, the alcoholic beverages industry has its big-name brands that customers expect to see on shelves, and they play an important role in the store. But there are also a tremendous number of lesser-known, independent, and craft producers across all three segments. This is where our merchants focus their time, looking for products that help us differentiate our offerings and bring that unique experience to our customers.

When it comes to understanding what customers want, our merchants look at growing trends and talk to industry partners to understand emerging customer preferences. They also have access to all kinds of tools and analytics, but the most valuable of them all are our own employees and customers.

“We wouldn’t be as successful as we are without feedback from our store teams, and what they hear from customers,” explains Brad Papietro, Wegmans fine wine director. “We rely heavily on their expertise, because we can do the best job in the world working with our partners, but if we can’t instill and inspire passion in our people, it doesn’t matter.”

Offering Something No One Else Is

At Wegmans, being a merchant means doing something no one else is doing, and offering customers a choice they don’t currently have. It’s with this philosophy in mind that our wine, beer, and spirits team developed our Partner Selects program, where we work with trusted partners to develop wine, beer, and spirits that meet a specific flavor and quality profile we know our customers are looking for.

“The team teaches us every day that when looking for a partner for this program, the best way is getting to know our suppliers at a very deep level. In many cases, it’s about them actually going to the vineyard, the winery, the brewery, the hops field,” says Geoff. “Once the Merchant determines a supplier is the right fit, they share the target they want to hit and get to work. But if supplier can’t hit the flavor or quality profile we want, we walk away. It has to start with quality. With our Partner Selects, our mission is to overdeliver on quality for the price.”

To truly deliver on our merchant philosophy, the team is always looking for ways to differentiate our business.

“As merchants, we’re looking at trends and trying to build off them, but there’s also our priorities and what makes us unique and different,” explains Brad. “For me, French wines have been near and dear to my heart, and that’s something we’ve deemed unique and different, and we’ve built that business and created a trend that is now driving significant interest and sales in the category.”

Whether the team is looking to bring in new products from a supplier or working with a partner to develop one of our Partner Selects, the key to success is our customers.

“We’re one palate, but everyone’s different. People’s palates change over time, so every time we taste something, we’re doing it with our customers in mind,” emphasizes Brad.

Educating Employees and Customers

Just as our merchants rely on store employees for important information about customer preferences and shopping behaviors, our store employees rely on our merchant team for product and industry knowledge.

It’s important for Mark, Jeff, Mary and John to spend time learning about their categories and products, but they also dedicate significant time to educating and training our store teams, whether that’s providing formal or informal training, involving them in our development process, taking them for partner site visits, or leveraging our partners for employee training.

The wine, beer, and spirits team feel strongly about exposing employees to hands-on experiences as the most impactful way for them to learn and then share their knowledge with customers. To help with this, the beer and spirits teams focus their efforts on near our stores partners when developing products. Mark leads the beer team in regularly inviting employees from local stores to visit partner breweries, taste samples, and participate in the development process. Similarly, Jeff has led the spirits team to involve store employee teams in our single barrel program, visiting distillers to taste single barrels and choose one for their store. While it’s more challenging for the wine team with most of their partner wines coming from far-away areas like California, France, and Italy, they do a great job finding opportunities to provide those in-person, hands-on experiences. Over the summer, Mary created a contest to challenge stores to grow California wine sales. She then took the winning wine managers to California for a week, visiting different partner wineries and learning through experience.

There are plenty of in-store opportunities for our employees and customers to learn about the products we offer. Over the years, we’ve evolved the way we work with our partners, bringing them on as an extension of our team to train employees and hold tasting events for customers. Additionally, the merchant team has focused on bringing our digital recommendation collections and seasonal favorites to life in store. The displays simplify the experience for employees and customers and serve as great conversation starter with customers that make it easier for employees to dig deeper into their interests.