Houston grocery wars: Are you getting the best deals?

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - You may have noticed more than 30 new grocery stores opened their doors in our area last year. More than a dozen are planned for 2014.

It's created an all-out war for your dollars. Consumer expert Amy Davis is talking strategy and how to take advantage of all the new options to save money.

Driving down the road in Houston is like pushing your shopping cart down a grocery aisle. There are a lot of choices. Chains have moved into Houston from Illinois, North Carolina and Colorado, all looking to cash in on Houston's good economy.

"Lucky for us in Houston, the economy is booming," said HEB's Scott McClelland.  "So that's attracted a lot of people to come here."

And luckily for consumers, there is more competition which keeps grocers constantly moving.

"You keep one eye on what you're doing and one eye on the competition to see what they're doing to make sure that they don't offer things that you can't," said McClelland.

But aside from recent openings, the chains that are churning up business in Houston don't have much else in common. Store managers we spoke with gave us the scoop on why that's so important.

"You've gotta have your own thing that consumers come for," said Blake Atkins of The Fresh Market

Atkins says his stores attract customers who want pre-made meals and ready-to-eat food.

"One of the things that we've found in Houston is that customers shop around," said McClelland. 

Grocery insiders said most Aldi shoppers go there for the eggs and milk. At a consistent $1.69 a gallon, you won't find milk cheaper anywhere else in the city.

Sprouts is your go-to place for inexpensive produce. And where else but Trader Joe's can you find wine for just $2.99 a bottle? It was previously known as "2 Buck Chuck," but $3 is still a good deal. Those are some staples, but most of the new chains are too small to supply all of your grocery needs.

"The reality is in Houston people do shop around and the challenge for a retailer is ‘how do you get the primary visit?'" asked McClelland. "How do you get the big order that comes through?" 

Kroger's answer is the Kroger Marketplace. The massive stores, like the latest one to open in Kingwood in October, have 60 aisles. After you grab your eggs, pick up some furniture, baby clothes or even a kitchen gadget or vacuum cleaner.

"The other day I bought a rug when I went grocery shopping," said Kroger shopper Lacey Moss.  

"I could probably stay in here for hours," said shopper Amy Soto.

That's the idea. There are three more Kroger Marketplace stores opening this year.

HEB has a new concept for a store opening at the corner of Fountainview and San Felipe this fall, but it's sticking with food.

"We'll have a sit-down restaurant with takeout that will be a restaurant that's in a supermarket, but when you're in the restaurant, you won't know you're in the supermarket," said McClelland.

One casualty of all of the competition: Randall's. The chain hasn't opened any new stores in the last year. And the Randall's store in the Westchase Shopping Center at Westheimer and Wilcrest is closing this spring. 

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