By Sujata Dand, Dallas Free Press
Earlier this month, H-E-B announced that it would bring two new stores to Dallas. Neither store would be its traditional grocery format opening throughout Dallas suburbs, nor its upscale Central Market concept at Lovers and Greenville or Preston and Royal.
Instead, H-E-B’s press release announced the new stores would be Joe V’s Smart Shop, which offers “a price-conscious shopping experience.” Both will be located in southern Dallas; the first store opening next summer at the corner of West Wheatland Road and Highway 67, and a second store opening in 2025 at the corner of Buckner and Samuell boulevards.
I recently visited family in The Woodlands, a fancy northern suburb of Houston, and decided to drive the 30 minutes to another suburb, Spring, Texas, to check out Joe V’s.
Since H-E-B initially announced it would be expanding in the DFW market, some southern Dallas residents had been voicing the need for H-E-B to open stores in their neck of the woods. After the announcement, several expressed frustration in social media threads that the Texas-based grocer is giving them a discount store rather than the shopping experience being rolled out in the ‘burbs.
Indeed, the no frills grocery store in Spring did match H-E-B’s description of “a price-conscious shopping experience.” But it also had a lot to offer.
I parked and ran into customer Ambrose Tores Jr. as he loaded groceries into his car. He insisted this store is the only place he buys groceries since it opened 10 years ago.
“It’s cheaper than H-E-B,” Tores says. “Prices are great. Everything is good quality. We love it.”
Inside, we found items of the same quality (or higher) as we would in typical Dallas grocery stores like Albertson’s and Tom Thumb. The only difference was the prices — substantially lower.
We usually pay $3.99 for Nature’s Own Honey Wheat, a staple in our house. Here it was $2.48. There were other brands, some loaves as inexpensive as 88 cents.
A gallon of low fat H-E-B milk was $3.17. A non-H-E-B brand was $2.87.
The 55,000-square-foot warehouse stocked plenty of fruits and vegetables at competitive prices. I bought organic celery, spinach, tomatoes and garlic.
According to H-E-B, the way they keep prices low at Joe V’s is by leveraging “operational efficiencies and new technologies.” We’re uncertain what that means, but we did have to bag our own groceries, and some canned foods were not displayed on shelves but instead on the pallets on which they were delivered. Perhaps these are cost cutting measures?
Customers inside didn’t seem to mind. Terisha Sigler says she doesn’t have a grocery store in her neighborhood. She drives 15 minutes to shop at the Spring Joe V’s. Today is her daughter’s birthday.
“She just wants some fries and chicken wings,” Sigler says. “It’s just like H-E-B, just a little cheaper than H-E-B.”
Our bill for a few items, including fresh veggies and bread, was $7.57. My 9-year-old daughter said she couldn’t believe our bill was less than $10.
We bought the same items at the H-E-B next door to my father-in-law’s home in The Woodlands. The bill was $10.72.
H-E-B opened its first Joe V’s in 2010. According to a Houston Chronicle article detailing the opening, Joe V’s was created in response to a trend in grocery and retailing in which traditional chains were becoming more discount-minded.
Joe V’s carries less than 10,000 items, whereas a traditional supermarket has about 37,000. So, Joe V’s might stock five ketchups, while a full-size H-E-B could have 25.
We didn’t find everything we needed. My husband likes Fage yogurt. There were plenty of alternatives, but no Fage. Also, my son had a sore throat. They had make-your-own boxes of Jell-o, but no ready-made Jell-O. So we opted for popsicles and other sweet cold treats.
And, while Joe V’s has a fresh sushi bar, and grab-and-go selections such as freshly made sandwiches and prepared meals, the selection was not as robust as what we found in H-E-B. Neither was the wine and cheese selection.
When we returned to the Woodlands, I expected the H-E-B near my father-in-law’s home to be more upscale and the shopping experience to be more of “an experience.” I had this perception that I would walk into a fancy grocery store with better organization, hardwood floors and soft lighting.
But I was wrong. Joe V’s and H-E-B look virtually the same on the inside — the same polished cement floors, the same fluorescent lighting and very similar signage. And, the grocery store “experience” of choosing fresh fruits, vegetables and meat for an evening meal felt nearly identical.
Though the selection of wines, cheeses, grab-and-go meals and household products at H-E-B far surpass what customers can find at Joe V’s, for someone like me who loves to cook, the produce and prices make Joe V’s a worthwhile option for food shopping.