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H-E-B continues to evolve procedures during COVID-19 emergency

The grocery giant is doing everything it can to keep feeding Texans in the safest way possible.

HOUSTON — A healthy dose of paranoia and three decades of experience are just some of the things that power Scott McClelland’s ability to feed Texans.

“When you're a regional retailer, you wake up every day somewhat paranoid about all the things that could possibly go wrong,” said McClelland, the President of H-E-B Food/Drug stores. “You never want to get hit when you step off the curb by a bus that you don't see coming.”

McClelland and his team saw the COVID-19 bus from a world away.

“As COVID came on, we began to call retailers from around the world who we have relationships with to say, ‘What are you seeing happen?’” McClelland said while standing in the produce aisle of one of his Houston stores before the sun came up. “And then, as we started to hear of cases moved from country to country, we began to think as if this gets to the United States. And then it went to when this gets to the United States. And through that research, we were able to put an action plan in place early on so that we knew what it was that we were going to do.”

McClelland said the company put a series of plans in place to simplify the workflow in case the stores would have to operate with fewer partners, that’s what H-E-B calls its employees.

“Rather than 40 kinds of bacon, let’s bring in two,” McClelland said. “When it looks at hamburger buns, look, you might want a seeded hamburger bun. Not right now. We're bringing in five kinds of bread and trying to make it easy for us. And the customers have been super understanding and they realize that in a time of crisis, everybody has to be flexible.”

Sergio Guzman will celebrate 10 years with H-E-B in July.

“We’re just busy,” said Guzman, while he was stocking the dairy aisle. “It’s almost every day is our Sunday now, which Sunday is our busiest day. I think we’re blessed just to be able to have a job right now, just to be able to have a paycheck."

Daniel Marks is the lead at the curbside department at the Buffalo Speedway store. He said he has to call every customer these days because of various changes in their orders, the store can’t always fulfill the items or the brand shoppers choose. That’s a lot of calls to make.

“On a typical Monday (before COVID-19), we would see around 170 to 180 orders,” he said. “On a Wednesday for example, would be like 140. Now every single day is hitting that 280 mark, or just about.”

H-E-B also implemented a series of safety measures for shoppers and partners.

“We're applying stringent social distancing rules,” McClelland said. “We've put up shields both in front of the checkers and behind them. Tomorrow night (Tuesday), we'll have shields go up where the baggers are. We have sanitization. Folks in the stores sanitize all day long. We meter people into the store to make sure we don't get too many in because I know this, if I don't have good sanitizing, a good social distancing, I increase the risk for the people who work in the store to get sick. And if I don't have people coming to work, I can't feed the people of Texas.”

McClelland said the grocery store business is complicated and after 30 years of working for H-E-B, the recent days have been the most trying.

“It was the wildest ride of any week of my 30-year career. Simply the number of customers coming in and what they bought and trying to match up what we brought in and having enough personnel, enough product on the shelf. We kept the train on tracks, just barely,” McClelland said.

McClelland said the company was able to pull from past experiences, including Hurricane Harvey.

“We chronicle them and say, ‘What did we do well? What could we do better?’ And then put those plans in place that anytime we have a natural disaster, whether it's a tornado or a hurricane or a broken water main, frankly, at this point, all those pale (in comparison to the COVID-19 pandemic),” McClennan said. “What you really learned is at a time like this you’ve got to apply common sense and a sense of urgency.”

“I really thought Hurricane Harvey would have been the event when we went through it because I had never seen it, it was like running a military operation. But it really gave us, I think, the background to be able to plan for this. But much different than Hurricane Harvey, that lasted 10 days. This may last two or three months. And so, it's much longer, it's much more coordinated and it's much more challenging,” McClelland said.

H-E-B partner Lois Hollis from the Meyerland store said she’s up to the challenge.

“Things have changed for us globally,” Hollis said. “And so we’re all having to adjust. I had many customers stop me and tell me thank you for working. Thank you for saying so, because it means so much to us. Let’s get through this together, because we will.”

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Below are key elements of H-E-B's COVID-19 Action and Response Plan to help ensure a safer experience for customers and partners:

H-E-B has instituted a social distancing program across our businesses, including in our stores and warehousing facilities, and we have dedicated teams of trained COVID Action Managers to ensure proper social distancing and crowd control guidelines are followed.

  • Each store has one dedicated entrance to help meter customer flow. Customers may notice a line outside, but rest assured, it moves efficiently and quickly. Once inside, they will experience smaller crowds, more efficient shopping experience and limited lines at checkout.
  • We have placed decals on the floor designating where customers should stand during check-out and throughout the store and installed partitions creating a buffer between the customer and the checker at each check-out, pharmacy and business center. We also are installing additional Plexiglass partitions behind the checker and around the check stand and bagger areas adding an additional layer of protection.
  • To better achieve proper social distancing, we ask families to send one person per family to shop when possible.

H-E-B Strict Sanitation Protocols

  • We have instituted elevated COVID-19 sanitation protocols, including thoroughly deep cleaning our stores every day and sanitizing all hard surfaces in the store as well as fuel stations throughout the day.
  • Partners also sanitize all shopping cart handles and seats and wash and sanitize their own hands frequently. All Partners must regularly use hand sanitizer, which is available at each entrance and every point of sale.
  • While at work, some Partners may choose to wear gloves and masks for their own peace of mind, however, this does not indicate they are sick. In fact, if a Partner feels ill, they are immediately directed to stay home. Partners who choose to wear masks must keep them clean while those who choose to wear gloves are required to change them frequently and wash their hands before and after each use.

H-E-B Curbside and Home Delivery

Our H-E-B Curbside and Home Delivery services are in high demand and we have implemented innovative changes that allow our Partners and customers to maintain proper social distancing.

  • For H-E-B Curbside, we ask that customers stay inside their vehicles while the order is loaded and communicate with our Partners from a safe distance through the passenger side window.
  • For Home Delivery and Favor, all orders are delivered to the doorstep, eliminating direct interaction between the delivery driver and customer.

Store Partners Who Test Positive

  • Partners who test positive will be quarantined at home with proper medical care.
  • All Partners at that store are immediately notified and we work to safeguard others who may have potentially been exposed.
  • Prior to and after the report of a positive diagnosis, the store and work areas are thoroughly sanitized multiple times, following our own strict sanitation standards and COVID-19 cleaning and sanitation program.

As we continue to monitor the spread of the pandemic, we are following guidance and advice from medical professionals and the CDC to make the best decisions regarding the health and safety of our Partners, customers and the communities we serve.