H-E-B customers try out new organic products. Photo by Andrew Moore.
H-E-B customers try out new organic products. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Eating organics foods just got a whole lot more democratic. For some, eating organic is a way of life. For others, though, the word “organic” is synonymous with expensive and hard to find. H-E-B launched a major new campaign Wednesday to make organics widely available at affordable prices. Organic foods will now be part of the store profile just about everywhere H-E-B has stores.

“Today H-E-B is launching our new organics line consisting of hundreds of USDA organic certified products for our customers in the store. They include a wide variety of items, including pantry staples and necessities, specialty items, and items in our produce and meat departments,” H-E-B Spokeswoman Lacey Kotzur said.

The San Antonio-based grocery chain created a distinct line, H-E-B Organics, because of an increase of demand from customers, who are becoming more interested in organic foods.

“Over the past several years there has been a trend towards more and more customers asking about organics and just looking for a variety of choices for their different lifestyles. Our way of answering that was coming up with the product launch of H-E-B organics,” Kotzur said.

H-E-B will continue to offer non-organic brands such as the Hill Country Fair brand, which focuses on value, and the Central Market brand which focuses on specialty items.

What does this mean for you? Is there a big health difference? Is there a significant cost difference? Well, here’s what we know:

Healthy Choices

While there is a general understanding that organic foods are healthier for you, as they lack certain chemicals, H-E-B is not making that part of their pitch.

“We can’t comment on any health benefits or things like that,” Kotzer said.

Judging by a review of the product labels, there was not a huge health difference in fat or other ingredients. A few products, however, did to contain less sodium than a competitor.

This USDA seal (lower right) certifies the product as organic. Photo by Andrew Moore.
This USDA seal (lower right) certifies the product as organic. Photo by Andrew Moore.

And while H-E-B is claiming to offer hundreds of new items, many of those will not be in the stores for the next few months – meaning dedicated organic consumers might not be able to switch from current grocer just yet. But make no mistake, H-E-B’s foods ARE certified as organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is indicated on the package by the USDA seal.

This seal means there are significant production differences versus non-organic products. For produce and pantry products, use of genetic engineering organisms (GMO’s) are prohibited, sustainable soil management must be used when growing the ingredients, and no artificial flavors or fertilizers may be used.

Generally speaking, the products (or ingredients) can only be grown with organic fertilizers and pesticides, though there are cases where producers can, by law, use synthetic substances designated on the National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. USDA certified products must also designate what ingredients are organic in a product’s the nutrition information.

Nutrition information specifies organic ingredients. Photo by Andrew Moore.
Nutrition information on H-E-B Organics products specifies organic ingredients. Photo by Andrew Moore.

There also are strict guidelines which force producers to separate the production of organic and non-organic foods, though cross contamination with things like soy can occur in some cases. Even if you see the USDA seal, it’s best to check the box – as exemplified by the photo below of an H-E-B Organics cereal.

Note: Even USDA certified products have a chance of containing soy. Photo by Andrew Moore.
Note: Even USDA certified products have a chance of containing soy. Photo by Andrew Moore.

For beef, lamb, poultry, pork, eggs, and dairy; the USDA seal means that the animals were raised on organic feed and they were not given growth hormones or antibiotics. Whatever the product is, all producers of USDA certified goods have their facilities inspected by the National Orgainics Program annually.

Cost Difference

A major selling point of H-E-B’s new Organics product line is, of course, the bottom line for customers: price.

“H-E-B works very closely with our suppliers here in the state of Texas or where we have that relationship,” said Kotzur. “Because they are directly working with us, and they are our supplier, we absorb some of the cost so that our customers can see much lower price points.”

According to Kotzur, H-E-B has created savings by cutting out the middle man and working directly with producers. The grocer also makes an effort to buy from local Texas suppliers before looking at national suppliers, which cuts down transportation costs.

Looking at the shelves, the new organic products are, indeed, reasonably priced. In most cases, the sticker price of an H-E-B Organics product was only slightly more than the non-organic, name brand competitor. In some instances the H-E-B Organics product has a higher price per ounce. The price, however, was normally lower than organic competitors. For example, compare:

Organics Sharp Cheddar sliced cheese (6 oz.) $2.97
H-E-B Natural Sharp Cheddar (8 oz.) $2.57

Organics Sweet Peas (15 oz.) $1.29
Green Giant Sweet Peas (15 oz.) $0.88

Organics Toasted O’s (10 oz) $2.98
Cheerios (18 oz.) $2.54

Organics Thin Wheat Crackers (8 oz.) $2.48
Nabisco Wheat Thins originals (9 oz.) $2.50

Organics Chicken Stock (32 oz.) $2.29
Pacific Chicken Broth (free range)(32 oz.) $3.19

Organics Maple Syrup (12 oz.) 4.98
Shady Maple Farm’s Maple Syrup (12 oz.)  $8.48

The advertisement that ran with the launch showed around 40 organics products available in stores. H-E-B plans to release more products in the line in the coming months.

*Featured/top image: H-E-B customers try out new organic products. Photo by Andrew Moore.

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Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore is a native of San Antonio and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. He wrote on tech startups for a year as a freelancer for Silicon Hills News and loves reporting on the cool...