It’s a Wawa World

Forget Comcast and Sunoco—the most powerful economic force in Philadelphia these days is the one making your Shorti. How our homegrown convenience store went from cult favorite … to superpower

Although Wawa is famously a Pennsylvania company, its key supply and distribution partners are clustered in South Jersey—not by coincidence, but because Wawa has the muscle- to insist they set up shop near its Bridgeport distribution center. That hasn’t always been happy economic news for Philly proper, since it’s moved jobs out of the city, but it shows Wawa’s impact on regional employment beyond its own payroll.

In Carneys Point, McLane Grocery, the nation’s largest supplier to convenience stores (owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway), operates a vast warehouse with 400 employees, which, unlike McLane’s other buildings around the U.S., serves just one customer: Wawa. McLane delivers packaged goods, including cigarettes, to Wawa stores. Ready Pac Foods, in Swedesboro, has a staff assembling the Wawa-label pre-packed salads, wraps, parfaits and cut fruits that fill the grab-and-go island in every store—another way to get customers in and out quickly.

In Vineland, Omni Bakery produces every hoagie roll Wawa serves. “We probably supply them with something like 65 to 75 million rolls a year,” says Omni and Amoroso’s Baking Company co-owner Len Amoroso. That’s just less than 200,000 a day.

In its move to Jersey, Omni became the exclusive hoagie-roll provider to Wawa—before, there had been a few. So Amoroso is making a lot of bread. “Let’s put it this way,” he says. “It’s hard not to do well with them.”

Wawa’s Bridgeport distribution hub—known as the “cross dock”—is in a warehouse adjacent to Uptown Bakeries, whose primary purpose is to bake the pretzels, cookies, doughnuts and muffins trucked to every Wawa store every night. (The sugar cookies, if you like the kind that are slightly gooey inside, are unbelievable.) Uptown’s operation here is another enterprise that exists just for Wawa. Local junk-food conglomerate J&J Snack Foods bought Uptown in 2000, in part because Uptown had a contract to supply soft pretzels to Wawa, says J&J CEO Gerry Shreiber. J&J also bought Philly institution Federal Pretzel, moved it in with Uptown, and eventually leveraged its pretzel tie to Wawa to take over the pastry case, knocking Dunkin’ Donuts out of there.

Every night, 57 Penske trucks transport the hoagie rolls from Omni, the grab-and-go items from Ready Pac and the bakery goodies from Uptown to every Wawa store. Every crate of food is labeled for its store; every truck is tracked by GPS. Most Philly-area store deliveries are done by 1 a.m., which is when your glazed doughnut will be its freshest. If you’re at your local Wawa in the wee hours and see an unmarked truck unloading racks of food, get ready to watch an employee dump leftover doughnuts from the bakery case into the garbage (d’oh!).

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  • Zip

    Check your AP Stylebook, please. It’s “Canada” goose, not “Canadian” goose.

  • Katie

    The proposed Conshohocken Super Wawa that was stopped by a “hurtful Stop Wawa campaign on Facebook”, has not been stopped. Despite the 300 residents shouting at a Borough meeting, “we don’t want it, we don’t need it”(http://tinyurl.com/3gwa62g), the developers push full speed ahead.

    Behind the scenes they are making sure the deal quietly moves forward. Morethanthecurve.com has reported a rumored organized effort funded by developers and lawyers to “put in place developer friendly municipal governments and solicitors (borough/township lawyers) across Montco” (http://tinyurl.com/3sjtck6).

    Residents see a critical change to the fiber of Conshohocken if this is developed. This Wal-Mart like megastore will endanger the delis, gas stations, retail and convenience stores, throughout Conshohocken. This would be the third Wawa in the immediate area and will lead to at least ½ a dozen local gas stations almost immediately closing. Sites that cannot quickly be redeveloped because of the underground storage tanks and environmental issues they pose. Making matters worse, this Super Wawa will have diesel fuel, bringing delivery trucks 24/7 through the residential community.

    Residents along Fayette Street vehemently oppose it, for traffic reasons, children safety and the future of their neighborhood. Concerns that fall by the wayside of Wawa attorneys/developers. facebook.com/stopwawa.

  • Fred

    While Wawa is certainly the pride of the Philadelphia area, it should be noted that in the late 1980’s, an internal scandal at Wawa resulted in the hiring of a New York-area purchaser who broke contracts with all Philadelphia vendors and signed on with primarily New York companies. It was not the fault of the family in charge of Wawa, but it was an embarrassing part of the history. I represent a family that lost 80 percent of our business because of that incident, so I am slightly bitter but I think it still is worth mentioning.

  • Amber

    I’m orginally from western PA and a veteran Sheetz customer. When I relocated to the Bucks County area three years ago, I couldn’t understand why there weren’t any Sheetz around, All Wawas. I mostly stick to 7-11 for coffee, and wawa for gas. Nothing Wawa makes compares to a Sheetz MTO!

  • Joe

    I think its funny when you hear about these communities opposing wawa’s being put in their towns. It’s funny because when it does finally get pushed through the approval process and the wawa opens for business, all of those masses who had previously opposed the store are suddenly frequent shoppers. If you don’t like wawa then dont shop there and go ahead and pay 20 more cents a gallon on gas at the dot shop station across the street where the indian guy is talking on his cell phone the whole time and couldnt give 2 shits about you.

  • Concerned

    I wonder what percentage of the resistance to the Wawa in Conshochocken is by business owners on Fayette, specifically gas station owners. I have no pity for the prospects of an oligarchy that charges 10-20 cents more per gallon on average than every surrounding community. Stop gouging the customers, and we won’t demand alternatives.