H-E-B’s expansion into Tarrant County is shaking up the offerings for the area as grocers work to adapt to the challenges of changing shopping habits and attracting employees in a post-pandemic market.

On Oct. 26, H-E-B officials announced a store would be built in the Alliance area of Fort Worth. Construction is slated to start in April 2023, according to a filing with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

“It is a great addition to the far north area of Fort Worth,” said Cary Moon, former Fort Worth City Council member. “There is tremendous economic growth triggered by Alliance Airport. [Alliance] will be the largest job center in the area in 2025, surpassing [Dallas Fort Worth International Airport].”

The arrival of H-E-B in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, along with an October announcement of a merger between two other major grocery store players, Kroger and Albertsons, are just the most recent developments in a changing landscape for shoppers in the metroplex.

Kroger and Albertsons officials confirmed their merger Oct. 14. It is planned that Kroger will acquire all of the shares of stock and properties of Albertsons for $24.6 billion by 2024, according to a news release. This includes Dallas-area affiliate Tom Thumb stores, with locations in Keller and Trophy Club.

“Albertsons Cos. brings a complementary footprint and operates in several parts of the country with very few or no Kroger stores,” said Rodney McMullen, chair and CEO of the combined company, in the news release.

Kroger in the past year has renovated stores in the metroplex, opened an automated fulfillment center in Dallas and implemented hiring initiatives.

However, Kroger is not the only major grocer to implement changes over the past year; Walmart, too, has completed store renovations and rolled out a new subscription service.

Renovating for shopping trends

In the past year, Kroger and Walmart have held grand reopenings for grocery stores throughout the metroplex after renovations that included increasing general aesthetics and catering to the shopping demands of the post-pandemic customer.

Tom Thumb and Target are among the grocers joining Walmart and Kroger in changing the look of stores.

U.S. Census Bureau data from August 2020 shows, during the pandemic, online shopping rapidly increased. Data shows this shopping sector experienced an estimated 10 years of growth within three months.

“Because people didn’t have a lot of options for shopping, online methods were a more approachable way to continue shopping while they didn’t have any flexibility to shop during the lockdown,” said Kiseol Yang, a professor and digital retaining degree program coordinator at the University of North Texas.

Walmart experienced more online shopping during the pandemic, which persists today, Walmart Dallas-Fort Worth Market Manager Rissa Pittman said.

The demand for Walmart’s pickup and delivery services has led the company to increase its order fulfillment capacity by 40% over the last two years, according to Lauren Willis, Walmart’s communications director.

“We’ve expanded a lot of things in that [online grocery] space as far as time slots and more availability in each time slot to handle more customers each hour,” Pittman said. “That’s been a huge shift in the shopping trend.”

John Votava, director of corporate affairs for Kroger, said the retailer sets out with a targeted list of stores in need of a refresh each year.

The Kroger store in Keller finished a remodel in 2018, while the location in Southlake wrapped up renovations in October. The store at 3300 Texas Sage Trail is set to get a revamped look next year, Votava noted.

Beyond that, there have been no plans announced for the store at 3300 Texas Sage Trail that was built for $5.75 million in 2010. That location is across the road from the soon-to-be constructed H-E-B store.

“It is very important to our customers to see we are reinvesting in our stores and reinvesting in the community,” said Votava, who is a Keller resident. “We pride ourselves on updating our store and keeping everything fresh.”

More competition

H-E-B joins a crowded market in the western part of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“As we think about the future of our business and position ourselves for success, we look at several deciding factors, such as market demand, strong population growth and real estate availability,” said Mabrie Jackson, senior director of Public Affairs for H-E-B, via email.

The Alliance location was the sixth announced store for H-E-B within the metroplex and the second in Tarrant County, joining the previously announced store in Mansfield in the southern portion of the county.

H-E-B’s 128,650-square-foot building will be located at 3451 Heritage Trace Parkway, with a price tag of $24.9 million, according to the TDLR filing. The Frisco H-E-B location, which opened Sept. 21, was the first of six stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that are planned to open in the coming year. A Plano store opened Nov. 2, and a location in McKinney is scheduled to open in summer 2023. Each store will employ more than 700 positions with pay starting at $15 an hour, Jackson said.

Meanwhile, Kroger and Walmart announced new hiring initiatives in September to help attract employees during the holiday season “and beyond,” according to news releases. Kroger starting pay is $11.50 an hour, and Walmart’s is $13 an hour. Officials with both companies said they hope to compete against H-E-B for employees in ways besides pay.

Existing stores in Keller include Sprouts Farmers Market, Natural Grocers, Walmart Neighborhood Market, Tom Thumb and two Krogers. Roanoke has a Walmart Supercenter and Aldi, while Trophy Club has a Tom Thumb. In the northeast portion of Fort Worth, shoppers can choose from Target, Natural Grocers, Walmart Neighborhood Market, two Aldis, and three Krogers and Walmarts.

“[Kroger has] been in North Texas for 65 years, and we plan on staying well beyond another 65 years,” Votava said. “We welcome the competition to the market. The consumer wins when they have more options.”

A groundbreaking ceremony was scheduled to be held on Nov. 16 as of press time Nov. 14. Construction will wrap up in December 2023.

Waiting on H-E-B

Moon, who represented District 4 on the Fort Worth council from 2015-22, knew there was a possibility of H-E-B coming to the Alliance area. But he also carried a bit of skepticism about the thought.

“[H-E-B owns] land in various places in DFW and hadn’t built stores,” Moon said. “It is good to see them purchase land and move forward with a grocery store.”

Moon noted that H-E-B also owns land in northwest Tarrant County off Boat Club Road and has not announced plans for the property. Mansfield’s city Facebook page posted in 2017 that H-E-B bought land there, but plans were not announced by the San Antonio-based grocer until 2022.

For the Alliance store, H-E-B purchased land from Hillwood in early 2021. Part of the deed restrictions for the sale was that H-E-B had five years to build on the property, or it would go back to Hillwood.

“There is tremendous growth in the Alliance area and that is a testament to Fort Worth and the community that a new unique opportunity [in H-E-B] is coming,” said Chris Strayer, executive vice president of economic development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. “[H-E-B] itself has faith in the community [that] it can support their business.”

When Moon announced the news of the land sale last year, he said he knew the support would be there for H-E-B from the area.

While the grocer did not announce construction plans immediately, Moon said council forged ahead with preparing the Alliance Town Center area, which is a 350-acre mixed-use development.

“We put in all the infrastructure so we can have a good development, and H-E-B is a good development,” Moon said.

Colby Farr contributed to this report.