Let the grocery wars begin

HOUSTON Just last week, the Kroger on Buffalo Speedway held a re-grand opening and very soon, a brand new H-E-B will open its doors, literally right across the street. It's making for an interesting tug of war for grocery shoppers.

On one side of the street, Kroger has basically had Buffalo Speedway to itself for several years. However, starting Wednesday, things will change as HEB opens its newest store just across the street.

At stake are the 150,000 consumers said to live in the immediate area with money to spend.

Kroger is the nation's largest grocery chain and the location on Buffalo Speedway is one of its top performing stores. A major remodel has just been completed.

"You can see some of those additions in our deli and bakery department that offers over 300 artisan cheeses, specialty chef shops, meals on the run, even a dessert bar with chocolate-dipped strawberries," said Rebecca King, Kroger Consumer Affairs.

The remodel was finished just in time for the competition across the street as Texas-based HEB is staking out new territory in a new high-dollar location.

"We have 57 different types of bleu cheese in the store. We'll have a Central Market Café on the Run inside the store. We'll not just do baked bread, we'll do scratch bread," said HEB Houston President Scott McClelland. "We really try to take what a typical grocery store offers and take it up to the next level."

They're vying for a share of the same neighborhood market. In a ten county Houston region, Wal-Mart Centers have the top market share with 27.6 percent with its 53 stores. Kroger is second with 26.3 percent of the market, but with 102 stores. HEB is third with 15.6 percent with its 47 stores.

Kroger is already pricing itself competitively here and HEB is known for the same.

"Yes, they're competing on price in one area, but they're also offering the gourmet, high-end items that people are still buying in those markets," said Tanya Rutledge of the Houston Business Journal.

These stores are targeted to high-end consumers in an upscale community.

Bargains don't hurt, but there is a downside.

"There is much more traffic, heavier traffic," said one shopper.

HEB opens early Wednesday morning, so let the shopping begin.

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