‘H-E-B for president:' Wide praise for grocer after Texas Monthly profile details preparations, response to COVID-19

H-E-B execs say they had emergency preparedness plan in place for years

Long lines, empty shelves at San Antonio-area H-E-B (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – As panic spread across Texas due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, H-E-B had already prepared for months for the wave of shoppers that was about to hit its stores.

Texas Monthly profiled how the San Antonio-based grocer started to plan for the coronavirus pandemic in January.

The magazine spoke to H-E-B President Craig Boyan, director of emergency preparedness Justen Noakes and other employees about how the company has weathered the storm.

It’s worth reading the full Monthly piece, which has been read widely online, including by former California governor and Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, who tweeted on Friday that the profile of H-E-B gave “him hope.” San Antonio state Rep. Diego Bernal summed the article up in a tweet: “H-E-B for president.” We’ll break down some high points below.

Noakes told Texas Monthly the company had worked on an emergency plan dating back to 2005, when there was the threat of H5N1, otherwise known as bird flu, in China. The swine flu in 2009 forced H-E-B to use the plan and it has been refined many times after that.

Noakes said they began to look at the novel coronavirus pandemic in mid-January, around the same time the first case was confirmed in the U.S.

Boyan said they were in contact with retailers in China and other suppliers around the world. The goal was to get an idea of how the pandemic had evolved overseas and how shoppers were reacting.

RELATED: Video shows inside of fully stocked H-E-B warehouse

H-E-B also took into account what social distancing and sanitizing practices had taken place to get their employees prepared.

When the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Texas, Noakes told Texas Monthly they were already prepared to shift hours to 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. to ensure there was enough product available.

Noakes said they started to see a run on N95 masks in early March, but the most significant spike came on March 11 when President Trump delivered a primetime address and the NBA suspended its season indefinitely.

A week before, Noakes said the company had activated its Emergency Operations Center in San Antonio. The center has been the primary hub for the company and driving factor to handle customer demand.

H-E-B started to limit the number of certain items customers could buy in a single trip, but remained steadfast in making sure warehouses were functional and able to meet the demand.

Boyan said they are working around the clock to deliver more meat and poultry, and accelerating opening a new warehouse in Houston.

RELATED: H-E-B ‘working around the clock to stock as much as we possibly can,' store says

He also said it’s been a team effort with distributors and suppliers to get items to people in different parts of the state.

Boyan and Noakes said it’s been inspiring to see companies, suppliers and their customers come together amid this crisis.

The company has received national recognition for its efforts to keep its employees safe and customers stocked during the pandemic.

A group of Marachis were sent to an H-E-B in Schertz in appreciation.


About the Author:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.