The seeds for Wawa convenience stores were sown in 1902 when George Wood started a dairy with a small herd of cows and a processing/bottling plant in Wawa, Pa. Using the slogan “Buy Health by the Bottle,” the business grew throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey as a team of milk men delivered dairy products directly to the customer.
The first Wawa Food Market opened its doors in Folsom, Pa., in 1964 to sell deli meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and other grocery items. Immediately, the company began growing and soon was offering innovative take-home meals, such as meatloaf and fish and chips.
Wawa quickly expanded to eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland and would later move into the Florida market. Identifying customers’ needs for fast, convenient and high-quality foods, the stores introduced a line of proprietary hoagie sandwiches and other to-go items. Because “Wawa” is a Lenni Lenape Native American word that describes the Canadian goose, a goose is used on its corporate logo.
In 1990, Wawa received the first annual Convenience Store Decisions Chain of the Year award in recognition of its early innovation in the convenience industry. Many more novel changes have been implemented in the two decades since that prize was awarded, including technological innovations designed to enhance product control, store management and foodservice.
The Wawa deli was among the first in the convenience store industry to adopt self-serve computer touchscreens for food orders. Customers use the touchscreens to place their own orders, which helps improve order accuracy and can potentially be used to promote up-selling. For example, customers ordering hoagies are asked if they would like to add a bag of chips, a beverage or another item to their order.
In the past two decades, the company’s foodservice offerings have expanded greatly. In addition to Wawa’s built-to-order hoagies and branded dairy products, the stores offer customers a menu of Sizzli breakfast items, deli sandwiches, assorted wraps, savory ciabatta melts, bakery products, ready-to-eat salads and fresh seasonal fruits.
Realizing that private-label products represent a tremendous growth opportunity for the convenience channel, Wawa introduced its own branded water, iced tea and soda, along with a wide variety of coffee and cappuccino beverages. According to company officials, each year customers enjoy more than 195 million cups of Wawa coffee, which is brewed with a special blend of roasted coffee beans and filtered water.
In recent years, many existing locations have been expanded into “Super Wawa, stores” some with as many as 20 fuel pumps. While the original stores are 3,000 to 3,600 square feet, the super stores are 4,500 to 5,700 square. All future Wawa stores will be constructed in the “Super Wawa” design. Company officials have described the stores as three distinct businesses under one roof: a convenience store, a foodservice retailer and a fuel provider.
Today, the company remains based close to its roots in Wawa, Pa., not far from the site of the original dairy farm. It is privately owned by descendents of George Wood, as well as Wawa employees who participate in the company’s Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Currently, Wawa operates approximately 570 stores—210 with gasoline—and employs more than 16,000 people.