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The Mashup 

Dear H-E-B,

From the Editor

Dear H-E-B,

WTF? I thought we were even. On November 1, we produced a (in truth, very funny) cover gently lampooning your downmarket Hill Country Fare brand and our downmarket District 23 Congressional Rep. HCF = “toaster pastries.” Henry B = “working-class M-A from the barrio.” Neither one is exactly what it advertises itself as, which doesn’t mean they don’t appeal to a large segment of the marketplace — to some who believe they’re getting a good value, to others because they think they can’t afford better. In the accompanying cover story, Current staffer Keli Dailey argued that Bonilla spends a lot of time posturing about education, minority advancement, and other issues that really do matter to his inner-city, more-Democratic-than-not constituents, but he is in fact a Hill Country Republican who manages to stay in office thanks to the white suburban and rural voters that have been wedded to his border and urban populations.

The parody worked because your de-facto position as the city’s only grocery-store chain means the HCF logo is almost universally recognized within city limits — so it was, in its way, a compliment.

You threw us out of Central Market for a week. ’Nuff said. Actually, ’nuff said once the faxed letter from Akin Gump Strauus Hauer & Feld arrived, but we thought if removing our rack from your store for the run of the offending cover put a spring back in your step and a smile on your face every time you thought of all those warm Current All You Can Eat mentions for your environmental awards, scholarship giveaways, and Hatch Chile Fests, we could be sports. We can get as good as we give.

Up to a point. It’s been a week now since our sunset-toned Hill Country Republican cover (alluding, too, to that apt quote, “When little men cast big shadows, it’s a sure sign the sun is setting”) disappeared over the horizon, replaced by our minty, refreshing “Race Issue” cover — illustrated by a studiously neutral, non-corporate-identified trio of ice-cream scoops. And yet, no joy in Central-Marketville; the mighty Current has struck out with our hometown grocer.

Honestly, it never occurred to us that you’d be so upset. Not only did our cover fall within the doctrine of fair use — codified in U.S.C. §107 in the bicentennial year 1976, and elaborated in such riveting bedtime reading as Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp. and Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. — but we couldn’t help but notice that H-E-B family scion Charles Butt seems to be distancing himself from Henry B. just as surely as the company is doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe away from HCF. While Butt has given $7,000 to Bonilla over the years, the donations look to have dried up since 2003. And just a couple of weeks ago when our Editorial Designer went shopping for some HCF lunch bags at Central Market, a store attendant told him that they were discontinuing the brand. `For the record, H-E-B’s San Antonio Director of Public Affairs Dya Campos says “No, that’s not true at all. If it didn’t come from our office,” it’s not a fact.`

We thought we were on the same page: Down with Bonilla; up with the Leininger-slaying Texas Parent PAC. Out with HCF, in with the more contemporary H-E-B store-brand logo and the friendly Southwestern palette of Harvest Moon.

Perhaps our cover sparked feelings of guilt and regret that to a large extent you’ve moved beyond your homey HCF beginnings to the caviar-and-prosciutto-stocked CM deli case. We’re nostalgic about HCF’s simple, country-kitchen aesthetic, too. ’Twas only last April’s Best Of San Antonio issue when Brian Villalobos frothed about our local “convenience colossus”: “For value-priced, variegated vendibles, few top the wagon, and the list is ever expanding.” Which paean resulted in a basket of HCF goodies, including Mouth Wash (the only item not snarfed almost immediately by staff), from y’all.

But those were the heady, joyous days of spring and Fiesta; now we have entered the dark winter of H-E-B’s discontent. “The quality of `HCF` cannot be questioned,” says Campos (OK, but can you at least reformulate the “toaster pastries”?). And don’t look for the Current at Central Market anytime soon, says Campos: “We’re reevaluating right now. We feel burned.”

And we feel … sorry that our readers can’t find us at Central Market (you might have to drive all the way to Whole Foods now! Although we’re available at more than 700 locations around town). But I’ll still shop at the H-E-B on Olmos (great place to find HCF) and Central Market. At least until Hippo’s opens downtown …

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September 23, 2020

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