The Washington Post reports that Wegmans is facing the threat of a boycott by consumers who want it to remove Trump Winery products from the 10 stores that it operates in Virginia.
"Over the weekend," the story says, "about 300 members of the Prince William County chapter of the National Organization for Women made plans to pressure Wegmans to stop carrying products from the Charlottesville winery." Wegmans "sells 237 Virginia wines from 58 wineries at its local stores. Among those wines are five varieties from the Trump Winery, including Trump Blanc de Blanc and Trump Winery Chardonnay. According to Jo Natale, vice president of media relations for Wegmans, the company has been selling wines from the Charlottesville winery since 2008, before it was owned by Donald Trump - and long before he campaigned for the White House."
Natale explained Wegmans' position and intentions this way: "“Our role as a retailer is to offer choice to our customers ... Individual shoppers who feel strongly about an issue can demonstrate their convictions by refusing to buy a product. When enough people do the same, and sales of a product drop precipitously, we stop selling that product in favor of one that’s in greater demand.”
Wegmans is just the latest company to find itself at the center of a political tempest because of real or perceived connections to President Donald Trump or his family businesses. Other businesses that have found themselves navigating uncertain and unexpected waters have included New Balance, Under Armour, LL Bean and Nordstrom.
The latest company, but certainly not the last.
It is hard to know what Wegmans should do in this case, or will do. It is fine to say that the wine will be removed if sales drop below a certain point, but as the Post points out, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is an influential, 50-year-old nonprofit with more than 500,000 contributing members, and a lot more people who are sympathetic to its causes. An organized boycott, along with protests at Wegmans stores, could force its hand.
But, of course, if it were to remove the wines because of political pressure, that'll only awaken the ire of Trump supporters who could engineer their own boycotts and protests.
Like I said, these are waters that are both uncertain and unexpected.
There are other companies that easily could find themselves in the same position - Trump wines are carried by retailers that include Giant, Harris Teeter, Safeway, Kroger and Whole Foods.
I have been arguing for a few weeks now that, in fact, these issues should not be unexpected. I absolutely believe that pretty much every company should be looking at their exposure to political controversy because of products carried or not carried, and that they should be asking themselves, "What do we do tomorrow if President Trump mentions our company in a Tweet?"
This is a business question, not a political question. It doesn't matter how you feel about the Trump administration and its policies. But there are certain realities.
One of them is that in this toxic political climate, consumers take aim at you because of Trump products on your shelves.
The other is that President Trump posts a Tweet about you, which creates a situation in which half your customers are thrilled, and the other half decides never to darken your door again.
It is possible, I suppose, that some of these controversies will diminish over time. But then again, the first month of the Trump administration suggests that this is not the case - political divisions seem more pronounced than ever.
However one feels about Trump and his policies, it seems clear that we are living in a time of political upheaval and passion, and perhaps uniquely, a time when politics and business are intersecting to particularly violent affect. Everybody has to be prepared.