There’s no denying that Publix is a popular grocery store. In fact, despite having a relatively small geographical footprint, it’s a major sensation in the Southeast. This Florida chain is also one of the top 10 in the country by sales volume, and it’s growing rapidly.
That said, most of Publix’s growth is in Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Overall, Publix has become an important cultural icon in that part of the country. Part of this popularity comes from its focus on suffering hospitality and its employee-owned, responsive approach to retail.
Since Texas also celebrates hospitality, why isn’t Publix expanding there? It would seem that expansion along the Gulf Coast would make sense, but that isn’t what Publix is doing. Instead, it’s expanding north.
What’s wrong with Texas, from Publix’s perspective? Let’s take a look.
Although Texans are very hospitable, they have a different culture from Publix. Rather than simply showing hospitality, Texans infuse state pride in almost everything they do. A chain with a strong regional culture like Publix won’t appeal to Texans the way it might in other potential expansion states like Alabama or Mississippi.
Speaking of Alabama, there are reports that Publix may expand into that state, which is a much better fit for them than Texas. Plus, when you consider that expanding into a new area requires additional logistics support, like warehouse space, it’s understandable that Publix would only expand into a few areas simultaneously.
Rival supermarket chains
Unsurprisingly, Texas has a well-developed network of supermarkets. One of the reasons that people wonder about Publix’s expansion is that many major chains have locations there. However, many Texans will tell you that there are plenty of grocery stores, at least in most of the state.
That’s not to say that Publix is afraid to take on other supermarket chains. Publix recently expanded into Atlanta, where rival Kroger has almost a 40% market share. Despite the odds, Publix is gaining a foothold. This is evidence of Publix’s overall popularity since many of those locations were likely well-anticipated.
What does this mean? Publix is very good at competing in new markets but always needs to look for the best opportunities. Building the infrastructure for a new region is expensive, so they won’t go somewhere that their internal analytics and industry trends indicate that they’ll have problems.
One word: H-E-B.
It’s one thing to talk about competition in general and something else to talk about HEB. There’s nothing like HEB in Texas, and this San Antonio chain dominates the Texas supermarket scene.
Any supermarket chain with a distinct culture that moves into Texas must contend with HEB. And in the case of Publix versus HEB, many distinctions have already been drawn. In particular, both chains have a decidedly regional culture.
For example, if you go into any HEB, you will find Texas, Texas, everywhere. They are also legendary for remaining open in the worst of weather, such as during hurricane season. It’s the same Texas toughness that local residents are known for. And Texan rough-and-tumble culture is very different from the genteel southern hospitality.
The fact that one article claims that HEB is better than Publix probably won’t help any efforts to talk Publix into expanding there. After all, you can gather from the article that HEB is better at some things and Publix at others. Under normal circumstances, those different niches would make room for both chains.
However, HEB is not a normal competitor. The chain has such a reputation for being a fierce competitor that at least one chain has decided to stay in Texas to avoid them. With HEB’s nearly passionate fan base, that probably isn’t surprising.
There’s no question that Publix is a beloved and fast-growing grocery chain. However, the chain is mostly expanding to the north rather than growing along the Gulf Coast. Somehow, that part of the self is not currently their priority.
What’s much less surprising is that Publix appears uninterested in a Texas expansion. That’s because Texas already has plenty of grocery chains. Additionally, the Texas chain HEB is dominant as a regional grocery store. They have a cult following and are especially strong competitors.
Expanding into Texas would be very risky for Publix. Unless HEB becomes a weaker competitor or other chains start leaving, don’t count on seeing a Publix in Texas soon.
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