Hoagiefest Returns!

Wawa kicks off popular summertime sandwich promotion in South Jersey

RIO GRANDE, N.J. -- Considering the staggering number of fresh-made Italian hoagies on hand to kick off a wildly popular summertime promotion called Hoagiefesta quarter-mile's worth of lunchmeats, cheeses, torpedo rolls and sliced veggies, to be preciseit was only a matter of time before a friendly food fight broke out.

Amid a carnival-type atmosphere of complimentary games and giveaways, an estimated 500 to 600 people and a mascot goose named Wally crowded the lot of a Wawa on a high-traffic corner in Rio Grande, N.J., for the official launch of Wawa Inc.'s 1960s-themed [image-nocss] Hoagiefest. The tomatoes, lettuce and Genoa salami began flying during an affable competition between the Middle Township Police and the Rio Grande Fire Co., in which both teams had to construct as many hoagies as possible within a three-minute span. The police came out on top, with 25 completed hoagies to the firefighters' 15.

Hoagiefest, now in its third year, includes a series of one-day festivals designed to "pay tribute to the almighty hoagie," in the Wawa parlance. Billed as "a celebration of peace, savings and Shortis," each Hoagiefest event begins with a morning hoagie-build, in which tie-dye-clad store associates construct a quarter-mile's worth of Wawa's celebrated six-inch hoagies to serve to hungry patrons later that day.

"The Shorti is our signature product," David Johnston, Wawa's executive vice president and chief operating officer, told CSP Daily News. "The goal [of Hoagiefest] is to drive sales but also to re-devote ourselves to the signature product for which we're famous."

As part of Hoagiefest, Wawa offers a different Wawa Shorti for a reduced $2.99 price point from late May through late July. The rotation: roast beef Shortis from May 24 to June 6, cheesesteak Shortis from June 7 to June 20, turkey Shortis from June 21 to July 4, and meatball Shortis from July 5 to July 18. Italian Shortis are available at the reduced price for the duration of the promotion.

"It's time to focus on value: giving value to the customer," Johnston said. "It's a permanent part of what we stand for.... Even when they're not on promotion, we sell a lot of hoagies. This reinvigorates the core of our business."

The 10-week promotion represents an "enormous challenge" in terms of preparation, adjusted ordering and execution but also an enormous opportunity to boost sales and strengthen its relationship with an extremely loyal customer base. Johnston could not share specific details regarding Hoagiefest's effect on Wawa's inside sales but said the fact that the promotion is now in its third rendition is in itself proof of its influence.

"I don't know we thought it would ever get this big," Johnston said. "Now it's a tradition, and it's been such a hit that we've made it a central part of every summer. We're confident that this year is going to the biggest yet, and we think so because we have this deep customer connection.... It's fun. It's just a big party to celebrate something good."

The South Jersey Shore is, in many ways, a summertime suburb of nearby Philadelphia. Many Philadelphians spend a good part of their summer "down the Shore" every year. Some, like Rita Anzalone, spend entire summers in South Jersey after long winters in southeast Pennsylvania. Wawa maintains a strong retail presence in many Shore towns, including Rio Grande, to make sure it maintains that strong connection while customers are on vacation.

"The Wawa hoagie is a part of lifea necessity," said Anzalone, who spends summers in Cape May, N.J., and attended the Hoagiefest event with her 5-year-old son. "It's as much a part of spending summers down the Shore as saltwater and ocean air."

Hoagiefest will next travel to Toms River, N.J., on June 11, followed by stops in Sandston, Va. (June 17), Philadelphia (June 30) and Lewes, Dela. (July 16).

Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. opened its first store in 1964. Today, it operates 573 stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.