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    Five Grocers Get Fortune's Nod as Among Best Places to Work

    NEW YORK -- A handful of food retailers are among on Fortune Magazine's list of The 100 Best Companies to Work For, and the most prominent, Wegmans Food Markets, came in at No. 2, one off its lead position on last year's list.

    NEW YORK -- A handful of food retailers are among on Fortune Magazine's list of The 100 Best Companies to Work For, and the most prominent, Wegmans Food Markets, came in at No. 2, one off its lead position on last year's list.

    The other grocers honored by the business magazine in its January 23 issue are Whole Foods Market at No. 15, Nugget Markets at No. 33, Publix Super Markets at No. 56, and Stew Leonard's at No. 58.

    While Wegmans slipped down a notch from last year, the family-owned privately held grocery chain is still a great place to work, according to Fortune, which noted that before Wegmans opened two new stores last year in the Washington, D.C. area, the company chartered jets to its Rochester, N.Y. base so all new full-timers could meet with c.e.o. Danny Wegman.

    In an interview with local newspaper The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Wegmans President Colleen Wegman insisted that the actual ranking is immaterial, since what really matters is serving customers well. Meanwhile, the grocer maintains its No. 1 position among companies with more than 10,000 employees (it boasts over 30,000 associates nationwide). The 2006 list marks Wegmans' ninth consecutive appearance in Fortune’s rankings.

    In a Q&A session with the Democrat & Chronicle, Colleen Wegman, who spearheaded the retailer's Nature's Marketplace concept shortly after graduating from college, mentioned her company's desire to expand further in Virginia, as well as possibly Maryland and Pennsylvania; but she acknowledged that finding suitable East Coast sites was difficult. She noted that the company goal will grow more slowly and take the time to do things right, and she categorically scotched any speculation that Wegmans would ever go public, saying she believes its privately-owned status is a "competitive advantage."

    The next grocer on the list is premier organic and natural food purveyor Whole Foods, which zoomed up 15 places from its No. 30 ranking in 2005. Fortune observed that the Austin, Texas-based company's supersonic growth has led to the tripling of its stocks in the past three years, and that even part-timers are eligible for stock options.

    Woodland, Calif.-based independent Nugget Markets made its debut on the list this year, thanks to its associate-friendly benefits. Fortune said it was particularly impressed by the independent's lack of premiums for full health insurance, $1-a-week family coverage, and pension and 401(k) plan. The 1,091-employee business also ranks 12th in the small companies ranking.

    Employee-owned Publix experienced a dramatic rise from its ranking last year of No. 94, perhaps because it's such a fun place to work. To cap off the milestone year of 2005, which marked the Lakeland, Fla.-based company's 75th anniversary, 850 stores threw parties featuring balloons, banners, costumes, and musical performances, noted Fortune.

    Stew Leonard's, celebrating its fifth consecutive appearance on the Fortune list, tumbled from its 2005 perch at No. 29, which c.e.o. Stew Leonard puts down to how increasingly competitive the list has become. Still, with such innovative programs as "Mom's Hours," which allow mothers to work while their children go to school, and even take off summers to care for them, the Norwalk, Conn.-based gourmet retailer was virtually guaranteed a spot in the 2006 rankings.

    The grocer itself has noted that 88 percent of its managers are promoted from within the company; that it fosters camaraderie through such events as department appreciation dinners and annual outings; a comprehensive wellness program including seminars, health screenings, and gym discounts; and active participation in community service.

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