© 2024 88.9 KETR
Public Radio for Northeast Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What's the deal with H-E-B? Here's why the Texas brand has a loyal following

Julia Reihs

There was already a long line of people waiting outside the new Alliance H-E-B in Fort Worth an hour before the grocery store officially opened Wednesday.

Susan Thurman was so committed to being one of the first shoppers she even brought a tent and camped out 6 p.m. the night before. The grocery store is less than five minutes from her home.

“They have yellow coupons and really good tortillas and their own soda brand,” she said. “I'm really excited to have another grocery market in the game available to North Texans.”

Thurman was awarded a gift basket for being the first in line.

The San Antonio-based chain has slowly but surely made its way into North Texas. Last year H-E-B opened stores in McKinney, Frisco and Allen. Each opening mirrors the one in Alliance: a local school band performs and people wait outside, sometimes the evening before, to be the first shoppers in the store.

At the entrance to the Alliance store is the phrase: "No store does more than my H-E-B."

A big part of the excitement for Texans is due to the chain's Texas roots, according to Sriram Villupuram, University of Texas at Arlington finance and real estate professor.

"It caters better to the Texas palate," he said. "I think that's at least the perception."

Prior to the Alliance store, the closest locations to Tarrant County residents were in Hudson Oaks and Burleson — both about 25 minutes from downtown Fort Worth. Now the Alliance H-E-B is the closest to the mid-cities area north of Interstate 820.

Despite its hype, the Texas grocer has yet to establish storefronts centrally in Fort Worth or Dallas — its North Texas locations are on the edge of the metroplex.

From a business perspective, that's a sign the chain is taking the time to understand its market, Villupuram said.

“Even within DFW you have so many local habits and neighborhoods and everything,” he said. “Understanding and addressing those needs is important for a grocery store. Otherwise, if they don't do that, then they're just another grocery store like a Walmart or Kroger.”

H-E-B certainly has the homefield advantage over many of its competitors. Founded in 1905 in Kerrville, H-E-B has expanded to 420 stores across Texas and into Mexico. Its locations are more prevalent in South and Central Texas, but it won’t be that way for long.

 Tarrant County residents wait in line for the H-E-B grand opening on April 10, 2024, in Alliance.
Camilo Diaz
Fort Worth Report
Tarrant County residents wait in line for the H-E-B grand opening on April 10, 2024, in Alliance.

H-E-B owns land in North Texas, but Villupuram said they’ve been playing the waiting game. Its Texas brand remains the main draw that keeps customers interested — and willing to camp outside the store.

"H-E-B's whole slogan is, you know, we're a Texas company, we know Texans better," he said. "’We're not a national chain that tries to cater to all the tastes.’”

At the Alliance grand opening, Keller Central High School percussion and Lightning Dancers were outside setting the festive scene for the long line of customers wrapping around the storefront. Coffee made with “H-E-B Alliance” latte art was offered at a stand outside.

For Maria Garcia, H-E-B's personal touches reflected in the opening day fanfare help them stand out.

“You can feel that Texas warmth, the way they thrive, and they want to work with the community, and you can see that,” she said.

Garcia stood in line with fellow Frisco resident Jennifer Burkman. They drove an hour out to the Alliance location around 7 p.m. the night before.

Both wore shirts that read “Oops...I did it again H-E-B groupie,” with North Texas stores listed. The Frisco, Plano, McKinney, Allen, and Alliance locations were all checked off.

“You can just tell that the community likes the fresh product and the amazing service,” Burkman said. “I think what it's doing for the economic growth is awesome, but what they do for their customers is phenomenal.”

 Some of the first residents to walk into the new H-E-B in Alliance during the grand opening on April 10, 2024. <br/>
Camilo Diaz
Fort Worth Report
Some of the first residents to walk into the new H-E-B in Alliance during the grand opening on April 10, 2024.

H-E-B has made a habit of catering to its local customers. In Houston, the grocer opened stores called H-E-B Mi Tienda designed to serve the city’s Hispanic community. Since then, the Mi Tienda brand has expanded to Mexican cuisine products like tamales and tortillas.

H-E-B also offers German cuisine products, which is why Karen Wright, who has German roots, came out at 4 a.m. to wait for the Alliance store to open.

Wright used to live in Atascocita, about 35 minutes northwest of Houston. She moved to Fort Worth in 2008.

“I moved up here because my kids were in school up here and, it's like, there ain’t an H-E-B up here,” she said. “So we were driving all the way to Hudson Oaks just to go to an H-E-B when they finally opened that one.”

Now Wright has a store about a mile and a half away, and even though there’s another grocery store across the street, she agrees H-E-B's Texas roots make all the difference.

“Big time, because they know us,” she said. “It's not like the one over there that happens to have an awful lot of Northern roots. And they don't get to know the people.”

As customers streamed into the new Alliance H-E-B, shoppers took no time in filling their carts. Three employees — Nancy Ferrell, Emzie Austin, and Jennifer Damron — were among staff at the registers for the Alliance opening. They typically work at the McKinney location but came to help with Tuesday’s grand opening.

Ferrell, who is from Pennsylvania, said H-E-B stands out from its competitors in other states as well.

“You know, there's nothing like it in Pennsylvania, there really isn't,” she said. “And then I was in California, nothing like it in California either. So, it's a store that makes you walk in and say, ‘wow’.”

The first purchase at the Alliance H-E-B? Homemade tortillas from the bakery for $4.88.

Got a tip? Email Megan Cardona at mcardona@kera.org.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you!

Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Megan Cardona