H-E-B executive Scott McClelland on pandemic response, mask policy

Exec says mask policy ‘has been the single-most difficult and challenging aspect’ of COVID-19

H-E-B store at 20725 TX-46 in Spring Branch.
H-E-B store at 20725 TX-46 in Spring Branch. (Google Maps)

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s note: This story was published through a partnership between the San Antonio Business Journal and KSAT.

Scott McClelland, president of food/drug stores for San Antonio-based H-E-B LP, participated in an online event hosted by The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business on Wednesday.

There, he answered a variety of questions on H-E-B’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and also addressed requests that the chain expand to the Dallas-Fort Worth.

Here are some of the highlights from the conversation, edited for clarity and length. Moderator Evan Smith, CEO and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, asked the questions below.

Do you think H-E-B is in a good place right now? I think you’ve certainly seen the tenacity and persistence of H-E-B in terms of being able to battle this, provide groceries, work to keep people safe. There haven’t been days where the train has really rattled on the tracks. There was a day back in April, I was down in Corpus Christi, and we literally had no product in our produce department and the only item in frozen food was spam fries, which was a good indication that maybe we should discontinue spam fries — if given the choice of starvation or buying Spam fries, people chose starvation. We certainly rebounded since that time.

We have stores in places where probably mask use is common, 100%, and people get it. And then you probably have stores in places where people are like, nope, don’t tell me what to do. What is your policy? And what do you do about the differences based on geography? Without a doubt, this has been the single-most difficult and challenging aspect of managing through Covid-19. … And if you start to think about wearing a mask, which we won’t have to do forever, well look, I dislike wearing a mask as much as the next person, but it’s a small sacrifice to make for other people to keep them safe, who may be immunocompromised yet still need to go to the store.  … Now people have really bifurcated themselves on either end, because there’s one group that says they should have to leave the store right then, on the other hand, we’ve also seen videos, whether it’s been on the news or on Twitter, social media, of the violence that can sometimes ensue with a confrontation, and not having police in the store — or in many cases willing to come to the store — to intervene, I can’t afford to put the people who work for us in physical harm’s way.

Read McClelland’s responses on the store’s mask policy, the toilet paper issue and answers to other questions at the San Antonio Business Journal.