The Retail Food Environment – Mike Washburn

On September 25th, 2009, a group of 15 students travelled to Wegman’s, a regional grocery chain, a regional grocery chain, where they talked with CIA ’97 alum and Executive Chef Mike Washburn about his experiences leading up to his current role at Wegman’s Ithaca. The students explored Wegman’s role in the retail food industry, how Wegman’s differentiates themselves from other grocery venues, and about the diversity of skills necessary for advancement.  Operating in a retail venue is very different from traditional foodservice, the margins tend to be even tighter, price sensitivity is higher, and the customer expectation is different. In addition, because most people shop weekly or even more often, keeping menu items fresh and appealing takes continuing ingenuity.  Wegman’s accomplishes this through a variety of means: product specialists that have been around the world learning about their areas, constantly changing merchandising, and offering public education and different meal packaging enhances the customer experience.  Mike noted that in his role he wears many hats – in addition to traditional areas such as menu planning, staffing, and procurement, he is responsible for areas such as liaising with the Executive Chefs at different locations, creating unique offerings and translating them across multiple venues.

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