If supermarkets in Austin, Texas, were in a horse race, the H-E-B steed would be far in front, followed by three other horses wearing the colors of Randalls, Albertsons and Wal-Mart, which has five supercenters there. Bringing up the rear would be two well-known natural and organic supermarket chains, Whole Foods Market, which has its headquarters in Austin, and Sun Harvest Farms, a part of Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo. Each has two units in Austin, a city of a half-million people.
In terms of market share, H-E-B ranks first, with 38 stores and nearly 60% of the market, according to Trade Dimensions International, Stamford, Conn. Randalls Food Markets, based in Houston and part of the Safeway chain, and Albertsons' Texas division, out of Dallas/Fort Worth, are neck-and-neck. Both operate 15 stores in Austin and are less than one point apart in market share, according to Trade Dimensions. One Randalls store has closed since SN visited it in mid-May, in conjunction with the Organic Trade Association's "All Things Organic" conference and trade show.
After them comes Wal-Mart, with five supercenters in the Austin market, less than a point behind Albertsons, with 10.34% of the market, according to the research firm. After this, the share drops dramatically.
Next, but far back in the field, is Fiesta Mart, a Hispanic format store from Houston, with two stores in Austin and not quite 2% market share, but it beats Whole Foods Market, a major natural and organic foods supermarket chain. Also with two stores, Whole Foods has 1.64% of the market, but recently broke ground for a new, 80,000-square-foot "Landmark" store across the street from its present headquarters. H-E-B's Central Market, which some people think of as an independent, competes with all of them, but probably most for Whole Foods' customer because of its emphasis on organic food. "H-E-B was here first, and brought out Central Market to compete with Whole Foods," said Mark Mulcahy, president of Organic Options, Glen Ellen, Calif. There are now two Central Market stores: the first one in the north end of Austin that opened in 1992, and the second, in South Austin, open since 1994. "They're doing a good job, too," added Mulcahy, a consultant who led a tour of two natural food markets during the OTA show, and also led one of the sessions. "[Central Market] offers the same stuff, but [it doesn't] have to live up to the mission statement," Mulcahy noted. "[H-E-B] can carry Oreos and Coke and satisfy the people who want both."