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2012 Power 50: No. 11 Charles C. Butt

It has what is considered one of the best high-end grocery formats in the country, and now it has what one observer said is the lowest-priced food-retailing format he’s ever seen.

San Antonio-based H.E. Butt Grocery Co., under the direction of Charles C. Butt, chairman and chief executive officer, has proven itself to be as innovative as any food retailer in the U.S. with its multi-format approach and its strategy to continuously improve.

Neil Stern, senior partner, McMillanDoolittle, Chicago, described H-E-B’s culture as one of “restless dissatisfaction.”

“As good as H-E-B is — and just about any way you want to measure them, they are one of the best supermarket companies in the country, if not the world — they are never satisfied with where they are,” he said. “As a result of that there tends to be more innovation from H-E-B than almost any other company.”

That approach to innovation and experimentation “clearly comes from Charles and the philosophy he has, and the family has,” Stern explained.

Charles Butt himself credits the management team the company has assembled. 

“Our biggest accomplishment at H-E-B has been building a great team,” he told SN. “We’re deeply proud of our organization and its capacity for growth.”

The company is pursuing growth on several fronts — at the high end with the expansion of its Central Market format, at the low end with its new, price-impact Joe V’s Smart Shop. The company recently opened its fifth Joe V’s location in Baytown, Texas, after rolling out the four stores in Houston.

Joe V’s large format and minimal selection make it more like WinCo than the small-box discount stores like Aldi that have entered the market, Stern explained.

Joe V’s, Butt told SN, “is doing well, and we have plans for additional stores,” although he did not disclose specific plans for new sites.

Butt told SN that the company plans to “continue advancing our multi-format approach to retailing in both the U.S. and Mexico.”

He said he’s been “pleased” with the way the company has dealt with the economic downturn.

“We’ve managed both operating costs and pricing aggressively to optimize our contribution to our customers’ tight budgets.”

Asked about challenges he faces, Butt said, “A challenge ahead is keeping our pricing highly competitive and at the same time operating stores we’re proud of.”

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