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I compared Whole Foods and Wegmans, and the smaller chain is the clear winner due to thoughtful design and private label grocery staples

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The outside of Wegmans grocery store.Wegmans.

Talia Lakritz/Insider

  • I visited Wegmans and Whole Foods locations in Western New York. 
  • Both chains have cheese shops, bakeries, and other specialty shops. 
  • Both stores are fun to walk through, but Wegmans is bigger and much better for getting grocery staples.
Wegmans and Whole Foods are both relatively high-end grocery stores with passionate fans, so I visited both to see how they compare.Whole Foods vs Wegmans

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Wegmans is a beloved regional grocery chain founded and based in my hometown of Rochester, New York.wegmans

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I don’t tend to do my regular grocery shopping at Wegmans, but I visited to remember why the chain has such a loyal following — taking the No. 1 slot in a recent national survey of grocery customers.Wegmans tour exterior

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Newsweek and Statista’s 2022 “America’s Best Retailers” survey of more than 10,000 shoppers named Wegmans as the No. 1 grocery chain

Wegmans has 109 stores around the Northeast United States, including highly anticipated locations in Brooklyn and a suburb of Boston.Wegmans

Courtesy of Wegmans

Source: Wegmans

I visited the East Avenue location in Rochester around 5 pm on a Tuesday, and it was completely packed.Wegmans tour

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Despite a large parking lot, it’s almost always nearing full at this location, and there’s often a police officer stationed in the lot to handle traffic.Wegmans tour

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There’s a coffee bar immediately to the right of the entrance.Wegmans tour

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Displays around the entryway change throughout the year, but during my trip they were themed around holiday hosting.Wegmans tour

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The store is set up as if you were already hosting a gathering, with snacks and drinks near the entrance, next to the flower shop.Wegmans tour

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The fruit and vegetable trays are on the less expensive end, while cheese trays are pricier.Wegmans tour

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The cheese counter is one of the more unique things about Wegmans because it carries types of cheese I don’t normally see at Walmart, Aldi, or even Trader Joe’s.Wegmans tour

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There are also employees who are experts on cheese who can make recommendations, with similar workers in each section with knowledge about the displays.Wegmans tour

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The cheese counter is separate from the deli, which has its own selection of meats and cheeses.Wegmans tour

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The huge selection of prepared foods is definitely one of the big draws of Wegmans, which has a hot bar with takeout meals and offers catering.Wegmans tour

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The bakery makes all kinds of breads and baked goods.Wegmans tour

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There are always fresh bagels available, and the bakery also takes custom cake orders.Wegmans tour

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Unlike other grocery stores I’ve been to, for example, there’s an entire display dedicated to smoked fish.Wegmans tour

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While most grocery stores have some pre-made salad bowls, Wegmans has dozens of varieties.Wegmans tour

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That level of selection extends to the rest of the produce section, which carries fruits I don’t usually see at other grocery stores like starfruit, jackfruit, and cherimoya.Wegmans tour

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I think a lot of the appeal of Wegmans comes from the design of the store, which is cozy and warmer than a standard grocery store, rather than the products for sale.Wegmans tour

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There’s a small train that drives over the refrigerated food section.Wegmans tour

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There are plenty of grocery staples in addition to the specialty foods.Wegmans tour

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For most items, the selection ranges from relatively low-priced Wegmans brand to standard brand names up to more specialty options that aren’t typically available at Walmart.Wegmans tour

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This is true in just about every section, with a huge selection of any grocery item you could need.Wegmans tour

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Wegmans also caters its offerings to the local market, like selling Josh’s Jaqs cereal in Rochester to Buffalo Bills fans, and locally brewed Genesee beer.Wegmans tour

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A back corner of the store is dedicated to a fairly extensive beer selection with both local and national brands.Wegmans tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The far end of the store has a pharmacy and aisles of hygiene and beauty products.Wegmans tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

With most of the store dedicated to food, there’s one aisle dedicated to dishes, kitchen tools and other homewares.Wegmans tour

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The chain did $11.2 billion in sales in 2021, and employs more than 50,000 people, according to the company.Wegmans tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Source: Wegmans

I love the huge selection, and the prepared foods are always delicious whenever I’ve gotten them. They’re especially great to bring to parties or events.Wegmans tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Unfortunately, all the things that make Wegmans different from other grocery stores are also the most expensive, so I can’t usually justify that for a regular grocery trip.Wegmans tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

I don’t do my regular grocery shopping at Wegmans because I can find lower prices elsewhere, but I still consider the gold standard and my favorite place to shop for food.Wegmans tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Next up I visited Whole Foods. the Amazon-owned supermarket known for its organic food.Whole Foods organic produce

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The chain has just over 500 locations, making it about five times as large as Wegmans, and did $16 billion in sales in 2017, the last year for which data is available.Whole Foods tour

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Source: Insider

The entryway has an Amazon pickup locker and signs about how to use your Amazon Prime membership to get better deals in the store.Whole Foods tour

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The produce section was impressive for the store’s size, though not as large as Wegmans’.Whole Foods organic produce

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Whole Foods definitely beats Wegmans in the breadth of organic options, though.Whole Foods organic produce

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Whole Foods had Italian food-themed displays posted around the store similar to end caps at Wegmans, although the ones at Whole Foods seemed to be placed less thoughtfully, like cheese and olive oil next to produce.Whole Foods organic produce

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Whole Foods has the same type of specialty shops inside as Wegmans does, but they take up a larger proportion of the store because it has a smaller overall footprint than Wegmans.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider.com

The seafood counter was really impressive, with a variety of fish, clams, and octopus that Wegmans doesn’t carry.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider.com

The smoked fish selection, though, was on par with Wegmans.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider.com

A freezer next to the counter had less expensive fish and mussels in the private label 365 brands, making seafood one area where Whole Foods beats Wegmans on selection.Whole Foods tour

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The butcher counter was also large and impressive, even bigger than the one at Wegmans.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider.com

There was a significant variety of pre-packaged meats too, including bison and lamb in addition to standard items like chicken, beef, and sausage, which was more varied than at Wegmans.Whole Foods organic produce

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Whole Foods is clearly catering to customers looking for alternatives to meat, dairy, and other popular mainstream products with large displays of plant milk and alternative meats.Whole Foods tour

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The chain has been criticized by analysts for not differentiating itself enough from other grocery stores, but at least in this location Whole Foods is positioning itself as “America’s healthiest grocery store” with a neon sign.Whole Foods organic produce

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Source: Grocery Dive

Whole Foods had the most robust plant-based protein section I’ve seen in a grocery store, with multiple types of tofu plus meat substitutes.Whole Foods tour

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“We believe in real food” is painted on the wall above another refrigerated section, which reminded me of Wegmans’ slogan for its private label brand: “food you feel good about.”Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzah/Insider

The last section of the store you walk through has containers of handmade pasta for sale, much more prominently displayed than at Wegmans.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The cheese counter was bigger than the one at Wegmans, though it didn’t necessarily seem to have a larger selection, so the space could maybe have been used better for something else.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Next to the cheese counter, there was a bakery with breads, bagels, and cakes.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The bakery seemed on par with Wegmans’.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Both stores had hot food bars near checkout that looked and smelled delicious, with mostly the same types of soups, salads, and side dishes.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Both stores also sell sushi platters, although I thought the one at Whole Foods looked more appealing.Whole Foods tour

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To get to the checkout at Whole Foods, you have to walk past a coffee and juice bar, while Wegmans’ coffee shop is located at the entrance.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

While I can see the appeal of both grocery stores, Wegmans was the clear winner on several fronts.The frozen section at Wegmans.Freezers at Wegmans.

Talia Lakritz/Insider

Both stores seem to position themselves as elevated above a regular grocery store, implying that they sell healthier or more “real” foods that you can get from a deli, cheese shop, and bakery while staying inside a single store.Whole Foods tour

Mary Meisenzah/Insider

Whole Foods prioritizes these shops and displays to the point where it’s difficult to shop for actual grocery staples like canned goods, pasta sauce, or baking supplies, especially on the lower end of the price range.Whole Foods tour

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However, Wegmans’ layout and larger footprint are much more conducive to buying grocery necessities, with more affordable private label brands and more space dedicated to non-specialty groceries.The view upon walking into Wegmans.My first look at the inside of Wegmans.

Talia Lakritz/Insider

I might go to Whole Foods to pick buy octopus or kombucha, but I could never see it being a primary shopping destination.header photoInside of Wegmans located in Brooklyn, New York.

Tallie Spencer/Insider

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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