9 Things You Should Know Before Shopping at H-E-B for the First Time

published May 18, 2022
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Entrance of the HEB Supermarket store. H-E-B
Credit: Shutterstock/Moab Republic

A few years ago, my sister, Sasha, moved to Austin, Texas. We grew up in Central New York, where winter is a six-month commitment and Wegmans is king. So suffice it to say that she suffered a little culture shock after her cross-country trip. While she never got used to the sweltering temperatures (she’s relocating to Boulder, Colorado, this year!), her time in Texas did give her an appreciation for a different grocery store: H-E-B.

If you’re not familiar, H-E-B is a total dreamboat of a supermarket. It also has a loyal following. “People have some strong opinions about it,” Sasha told me when I asked her to share some insider intel. I can understand that! The first time I visited her in Texas, she took me to an H-E-B. I was blown away by the efficiency of the store, the friendliness of the staff, and the hard-to-find specialty products that quickly stacked up in my cart.

Curious to get the inside scoop, I recently chatted with my sister and her Texas-based friends about H-E-B. I wanted to know more about what made it special — and how to get the most out of your shopping trip. Do they have an impressive bulk section, like Sprouts? How’s the freezer section? Are the store’s private-label products song-worthy? Here’s everything you need to know before shopping at H-E-B for the first time. 

Credit: H-E-B

1. It’s only in Texas and Mexico.

Fair warning: If you live outside of Texas or Mexico, this post is going to be aspirational reading for you. H-E-B only has locations in those places. It started in San Antonio and that’s where its headquarters are today. With more than 300 locations, you’ll find an H-E-B pretty much anywhere you travel throughout Texas, but the stores are most prevalent in the hubs around San Antonio and Austin.

2. The company has a VERY loyal following … that includes Brené Brown! 

Don’t ask an H-E-B fan to talk about H-E-B unless you’ve got some time to kill. My sister’s friends were full of sincere praise for this regional chain. “I will always be loyal to H-E-B,” says my sister’s friend, Christine Brunson. Brené Brown, the inspirational speaker, author, and researcher, loves it too. “To know me is to know I love my H-E-B grocery store!” she wrote in a LinkedIn article about H-E-B’s preparedness plan when COVID-19 hit. “They were the first to protect cashiers with plexiglass. They gave workers a raise when the crisis started,” she explains.

Credit: H-E-B

3. It’s family-owned and has a prominent philanthropic mission.

“H-E-B is unique in many ways, but at its core, IMO, is that it is family-owned. And it turns out that family has some high moral character,” says Texan Eric Scott. “They treat their employees — and thus, their customers — with a ton of dignity and respect.” H-E-B is also commonly praised for its philanthropic missions. They regularly provide disaster relief (you can even request assistance on their website). “H-E-B will be all over a disaster site days before FEMA even knows it happened,” says Rothko Hauschildt, another Austin-based H-E-B fan.

Credit: H-E-B

4. The line of cured meats are a must try.

Austinite Megan Reed is a fan of all things H-E-B, but especially their Texas Heritage Products. Texas Heritage is the store’s line of cured meat products, like smoked sausages. “The jalapeño hot dogs are awesome,” she notes. All Texas Heritage products are priced attractively — those hot dogs are $4.11 for a 6-pack — and many are beloved Primo Picks. Which brings me to the next tip!

5. Keep your eyes open for Primo Picks.

H-E-B’s Primo Picks are an insider hint to the team’s favorite products. You can identify them with special tags on items in the stores; you can also browse the lineup on H-E-B’s website. You can even search by category to find unique or cool new favorites you might not have tried before.

Credit: H-E-B

6. You should be on the look-out for products with a green checkmark.

If a packaged food at H-E-B has a green checkmark, that means it has earned the store’s seal of approval. These “Select Ingredients” products are made without high-fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, and many additives; you can browse the full list of banned items here. There are hundreds of products that meet the store’s stringent requirements, so filling your cart with these options is easy and efficient.

7. You can request products that the store doesn’t carry.

Reed notes that customers can always ask for products or items that H-E-B doesn’t currently carry — they even have a form online that you can use to easily place your request. “I got them to carry a cleaning product I need,” she said. Gotta love that efficiency: I’m used to driving around to two or more stores to get everything on my list. 

Credit: Courtesy of Rochelle Bilow

8. Fresh tortillas and chips are made right in the store.

Sasha, my sister, had nothing but praise for her favorite aspect of H-E-B: The freshly made tortillas and chips. “They’re perfect chips: super crunchy, thin, and just the right amount of salty.” While you can buy H-E-B’s chips in all locations, a few outposts also offer tortillas that are made right in the store. Sasha, who eats a gluten-free diet, did note that most of their tortilla options are flour-based, but the chips are 100% corn.

9. All three letters are pronounced.

This last one is obvious to H-E-B enthusiasts, but it was definitely news to me. After a few minutes of chatting on the phone about this iconic grocery chain, my sister corrected my pronunciation. I was saying “Heb,” as if it rhymed with the name “Deb.” But any Texan will (happily) set you straight: All three letters are pronounced. H. E. B.

Are you an H-E-B super fan? Share your secrets in the comments below.