During a recent trip to Houston, I stopped by Joe V’s, a new discount banner from San Antonio-based H.E. Butt.

I visited around 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.

Feeling dumb at Joe V's Smart Shop

Pamela Riemenschneider
Aisle Wandering

Before I even walked in the store, I could tell what I was getting in to. At least four people were heaving overfull carts out of the store.

Reminiscent of Aldi and K-Mart, Joe V’s carries a lot of H-E-B’s private labels, but it also has limited time deals.

I follow the store on Facebook and have seen hour-long sales of $1 bagged salads or a post where they say they’ve gotten a shipment of strawberries and will sell them for $1 a package until they run out.

I estimate the store was 30,000 to 40,000 square feet and was located in an economically challenged area of Houston.

The produce department was small, but well stocked.

They had a few classifications of deals, one of which was “Joe V’s OUTRAGEOUS DEAL”. This day’s deal was five for $1 pears.

They also had 77 cents-a-pound nectarines, and upon further inspection, these nectarines were a little uglier than average. They smelled good, though. I’m guessing they were rejected at another store.

I succumbed to the $1.50 clamshell of California Giant strawberries and some three for $1 Zespri kiwifruit and got a few other things, like lump charcoal and air filters for my air conditioner for $2.

See? This is the type of variation I’m talking about.

The whole place had a frantic feel to it. It was early in the month so that could have something to do with it — first of the month stockup trip.

Crazy cheap produce didn’t appear to be the primary driver for people to come to the store, however. While there were a good number of people picking through apples and potatoes, the majority seemed attracted to the meat and frozen foods aisles.

Every person around me in the checkout line was buying what I’d consider junk food.

Everyone — and I mean everyone I could see — had at least five frozen dinners. I counted. I had that much time to spare as it took at least 20 minutes to check out because everyone had over-full carts.

As I exited, I saw a Food Town across the street. I wanted to see what this established store looked like on the inside and how the prices compared.

The first thing I saw was that same clamshell of Cal Giant strawberries — for 99 cents.

Several other items were cheaper or comparably priced. Onions were 50 cents a pound, pears were on ad at three for $1.

Most of what I could see, however, was priced a little higher. This store did have a larger produce department with greater variety, but the frantic “buy, buy, buy!” feeling wasn’t there.

Want to see Joe V’s? I posted pictures on the PR Blog at ProduceRetailer.com.

E-mail pamelar@thepacker.com.

Have you visited Joe V's? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.