You can go to the supermarket for some mighty glossy reading material these days.
Wegmans has just introduced the premier issue of Menu magazine with 88 pages of gorgeous pictures. Tops Markets' Lifestyle magazine features 77 pages of attractive features, and a spokesman for Quality Markets reports that the chain has plans to offer its own magazine later this year.
No flimsy supermarket circulars these, you understand, at least not the two already in existance. They are glossy publications on good quality paper, featuring out of the ordinary - but in many cases not particularly difficult - recipes. Not to mention exotic travel destinations. And upscale national restaurants, as well.
With the current high cost of printing, the magazines are obviously expensive to produce, and they carry price tags of up to $3.95 an issue. (Although if you spend enough for your groceries, the magazine is free.)
Still, you can't help but wonder what audience the supermarket chains are trying to reach.
"We're aiming toward people who are as passionate about food as we are," says Wegmans spokesperson Ann McCarthy, who adds that the chain is not concentrating on any particular demographic. The Wegmans team has been traveling the world for years for food ideas and they wanted to share them, McCarthy explains.
On the other hand, Tops spokesperson Stefanie Zakowicz says that chain's Lifestyles magazine is aimed slightly differently. "We know people have little time to read so we're going for today's busy families; for moms who have kids and are running around like mad," she says, pointing out that the Tops magazine is not only about food, it also focuses on nutrition, crafts and health.
The Wegmans publication, assembled and printed especially for the chain by CMD Marketing Communications of Rochester, is particularly glossy - its theme this time is Venice. And the scope is definitely international as opposed to local. There are articles written by nationally known food people like Steven Raichlin and John Mariani, as well Wegmans executive chef John Steinhoff.
There's also a discussion of wine and cheese pairing by the sommelier of Manhattan's hotter than hot Bouley Bakery and a discussion of Toronto's vaunted N44 restaurant.
The Tops magazine, a quarterly distributed through all the Ahold-owned chains around the country, also doesn't have too much of a local slant, although there are a few pages that Tops contributes, including messages from the chain's managers.
Marc Jampole, the spokesman for the Pittsburgh-based Penn Traffic and Quality Markets, says Quality's magazine has been in the planning stages for some time now. He could not give specific details as yet.
"There is a big push for supermarket magazines all over the country," Jampole explains. "Their purpose is to create customer loyalty."
Which is certainly worth creating in light of the fact that the Food Market Institute reports that most shoppers go into supermarkets four or more times a month.
"This is a very competitive business and is going to get more competitive as time goes on," Jampole adds.
Certainly, both the Tops and Wegmans magazines encourage readers' business. Lifestyles has pages of national ads as well as pages of cents-off coupons. Wegmans' Menu has national advertisers, including classy ones like Land Rover and Mercedes Benz.
Wegmans' magazine even includes a "What's in Store" section at the back of the book that gives a shopping list for every single recipe, and where in the store you can find every ingredient.
Not all supermarket magazines do well, however. A December 1999 issue of Supermarket News reported that the Canadian chain Loblaws suspended publication of its glossy President's Choice magazine after a three-year trial period.
A spokesman for the chain said the magazine was much praised but failed to meet the goals Loblaws had set for it. The grocer is supposedly looking at a President's Choice Web site instead.
There have been other failures, too. A Starbuck's magazine called Joe suspended publication after just a few issues.
But so far at least, Western New York food shoppers seem to be happy. Tops' Zakowicz says its Lifestyles magazine disappears from the stores within two weeks. And though Wegmans will not say how many copies of Menu have been printed, McCarthy reports that the reaction exceeded expectations. In short, Menu sold out.
The premier issue is in its second printing and another issue is expected in September. After that, Menu will come out in the stores four or five times a year and a subscription policy is being considered at this time.
And though one Wegmans employee reported in lowered tones that some customers have mentioned they think the magazine is too expensive, many seem enthusiastic.
"I think the magazine is just beautiful to look at," says loyal Wegmans shopper Barbara Ginsberg, who received a complimentary copy in the mail.
But would she pay $3.95 for it?
"Probably not," she admits. "Frankly, I would like to get the magazine sort of as a reward."