This post comes from the official blog of grocer Wegmans – Fresh Stories and is written by their Senior Vice President, Consumer Affairs, Mary Ellen Burris. In the post she continues to use their blog as an effective and powerful tool to authentically and honestly communicate with their customers. So take note and “Join the conversation.”
This is a chronicle of continuous improvement for Wegmans brand products. Some consumers believe that products with our name on them are all made by us, but that’s not the case. There are hundreds of suppliers providing them, and keeping specifications aligned with each of them is no small task.(A specification, or spec, is technical description defining a product.) Expectations and products specs change over time, even when suppliers remain the same (although we sometimes switch). Even process and equipment changes can result in subtle shifts, sometimes for the better, sometimes not, especially when companies try to cut costs.
Although there had long been a focus on high standards for the items that bear the company name, we decided three years ago to undertake a systematic review of products to be absolutely certain we were happy with them. Before this started, our QA group moved into new spaces (a store we had earlier closed was renovated) with new laboratory kitchens and testing equipment. The systematic review involved scheduling evaluations, category by category, that included a detailed spec review and a sensory evaluation (as in taste, appearance, etc.). There was also a general assessment of how the category compared to other similar brands as well as our own expectations. There was lots of shopping, weighing, measuring, tasting, smelling and preparing. We quickly added a review of customer comments; after all, what would be the point if our quality assurance experts were satisfied but customers were not?
The exercise involved many people, not just our quality assurance people but the merchant/buyer, product developers and suppliers too, particularly when issues we discovered had to be fixed. Getting all these people around a table full of products proved to be a useful collaborative tactic.