The San Antonio-based H.E. Butt grocery chain hired the Richards Group here to develop its first concerted branding push after a review of Texas agencies.
The retailer also heard presentations from DDB Needham Dallas, McGarrah/Jessee in Austin, Texas, and other undisclosed contenders.
Richards principal Brad Todd said the agency is still discussing specifics of the initial assignments, which sources said will include broadcast and print image advertising.
"While we reviewed outstanding work from several agencies, we felt that The Richards Group demonstrated the strongest strategic and creative credentials and, at the same time, the best fit with our company's culture," said HEB group vice president of sales and advertising Suzanne Allford.
Allford did not return calls to discuss the specifics of Richards' assignments.
HEB plans to keep media buying in-house and will continue working with other agencies on a project basis. The Parker & Wood Association of San Antonio has created advertising for HEB's Pantry Foods stores in the past.
The bulk of the retailer's 245 stores operate as HEB Food Stores, though about one-third are smaller Pantry units without specialty departments. All but two of the company's stores are in Texas.
Richards previous work in the category includes a nine-year run as agency of record for Tom Thumb grocery stores. Its presentation to HEB, led by Todd, also leveraged a range of retail work for The Home Depot, Motel 6 and Chick-fil-A, according to sources.
Though Competitive Media Reporting tracked the grocer's ad spending at $8 million-plus last year, sources said the company's marketing budget is significantly higher because of untracked expenditures including newspaper inserts. HEB's sales reached $6.5 billion in 1997, a 12 percent hike over 1996, per Hoovers Online.