The new H-E-B "Select Ingredients" chips bear the signature green check mark. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.
The new H-E-B "Select Ingredients" chips bear the signature green check mark. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.

Grocery giant H-E-B is launching a new product line of foods that exclude more than 200 synthetic ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, aspartame, and bleached flour.

A number of new “H-E-B Select Ingredients” products are already on the shelves, and the line is expected to grow to more than 400 products by the end of this year. The new products include ice cream, milk, Greek yogurt, bread, chips, granola bars, nuts, and other snack items.

The new line complements the H-E-B Organics line that launched in 2014, signaling that the grocery chain is making an increased effort to improve the foods it already sells and expand healthy options for its consumers. Customers will be able to find “Select Ingredients”products by looking for the line’s signature green check mark on the front of the packaging.

In a Wednesday phone interview, H-E-B Public Affairs, Health, and Wellness Representative Julie Bedingfield told the Rivard Report that the company has been shifting toward this trend for quite some time now. The new line, she said, combines existing products that meet the “Select Ingredients” standard of quality with novel products.

“Several of the H-E-B family of brands meets the high standards of quality that we have,” Bedingfield said. “So this was the right time for our company to expand into these products.”

Although 400 is a large number of products to roll out in a short period of time, she added, H-E-B is on track for the launch and will gradually introduce more healthy products.

“We hope to continue to be the standard bearer for this type of initiative,” Bedingfield said.

H-E-B Creamy Creations ice cream with the Select Ingredients green check mark. Photo Courtesy of H-E-B
H-E-B Creamy Creations ice cream with the “Select Ingredients” green check mark. Photo Courtesy of H-E-B.

Marco Palma, an associate professor and extension economist at Texas A&M University, specializes in horticultural marketing and consumer preferences. Palma told the Rivard Report that H-E-B is responding to a growing consumer trend of people paying greater attention to where their food comes from and what’s in it.

“Consumers today are more interested in the way their food is produced,” Palma explained. “Where and how that happens is probably more relevant today than ever before.”

People want food that goes beyond the standard in terms of additional health benefits, Palma said. Consumers are trending toward foods that improve overall health, contribute to combating diseases, and are produced sustainably with fair labor practices.

“Food is becoming something that people are using to showcase their social status,” Palma said. “Consumers are showcasing what they eat now. So one thing is for sure – consumers are (becoming) more interested in non-physical attributes as long as the product tastes good.”

H-E-B is entering the market at a period of exponential growth, Palma added. As more businesses enter that market, there will be added pressure to keep the prices of healthy and organic foods low. Palma said he doesn’t foresee loyal customers from established health food stores like Whole Foods making the switch to H-E-B. Even though some of their nutrition goals align, the clienteles differ in habits, behaviors, and other factors.

“Whole Foods customers want consistency, quality, variety, and they don’t care much about price,” Palma said. “I don’t expect a lot of their shoppers to start replacing what they buy there with these new H-E-B products.”

H-E-B, a widely respected and highly successful local company, will continue to serve its loyal customers base by offering added value through more nutritious foods and keeping its prices competitive.

The newly rolled out and future products will remain in line with the company’s “goal to be responsive to our customers who are seeking the highest quality in food at the lowest prices possible,” said Martin Otto, H-E-B chief merchant and chief operating officer in a press release.

Phil Lempert, a food marketing expert and self-styled “supermarket guru,” told the Rivard Report that the trend of grocery chains replacing synthetic ingredients with natural ingredients is a national one.

“(This trend) started with Panera Bread’s ‘No No List’ and we’re starting to see it across the board,” Lempert said. “Kroger’s organic line is going through the roof (in sales).”

Lempert said that people are starting to “put their money where their mouth is,” and that consumers in every demographic are recognizing the effect that food has on health and longevity. Despite this, he said, it will have no effect on prices as companies have added costs to incur in making products naturally, such as research and development, procuring new suppliers, and transportation.

A full list of ingredients excluded from H-E-B “Select Ingredients” products can be viewed here.

Top image: The new H-E-B “Select Ingredients” chips bear the signature green check mark. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.  

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James McCandless

Former intern James McCandless is a recent St. Mary's University graduate. He has worked with the San Antonio Current and Texas Public Radio.