Groceries for Free

Want to get groceries for free? HEB has a spectacular policy called “Fresh or Free”. This is not a joke or hype or any kind of sales pitch. This grocery store actually provides an opportunity for anyone to get groceries for free. If you do not know of the HEB grocery chain, it’s probably because the chain is only located in Texas. My wife and I shop there almost exclusively, especially because of the Fresh or Free program. Here is a basic rundown of how to take advantage of this great policy:

  1. Hunt for items that have expired.
    This is the first and foremost rule. So when you arrive at the store, carefully look through the stock of particular items you are interested in, and hunt for the expired one(s). Try to utilize some stealth, as the staff is trained to seek out “fresh or free-ers” like us. The staff cannot stop you from looking, but they may start going through the stock along side of you and weed out expired items.
  2. Once you have found an expired item, put it in your basket, along with an identical, fresh item.
  3. You are only allowed to fresh or free one item per SKU, per person.
    This doesn’t mean you can’t walk away with hundreds of dollars or more in groceries for free, it just means if you find 10 expired Tombstone Pepperoni Pizzas, you can only take one fresh one, per person. But if you find one Tombstone Pepperoni Pizza, and one Red Baron Pepperoni Pizza that have expired, then you get one of each for free.
  4. Go to the cash register and place your items in pairs (one expired, one fresh) on the conveyor belt.
  5. Tell the cashier “I have some expired items here.”

We have had times where the staff is not friendly, and sometimes downright mean about us getting groceries for free. Don’t let this dissuade you, they are obligated by the policy to give you the groceries for free. We’ve heard every excuse in the book, and you will too, if you participate in the program. If they get too mean, just have a manager come over and take care of it.

My personal opinion of why they offer groceries for free:

  • I believe that the program makes an incredible amount of sense from a business perspective. HEB is basically hiring the general public to wade through their current stock, and eliminate expired items. Now I know this is a job that should be handled by the night stockers, but think about the average night stocker, why would they care about checking dates? That would be far more time and effort to complete the stocking for the night. And with the small wage that HEB is paying their stockers, it makes sense to offer groceries for free under this program.
  • Also, this program allows HEB upper management to identify weakness in their lower management, especially night stocking crew management. So in effect, we are helping them to root out bad management, and provide the best quality food. It is a win-win situation for the company, and for us as customers (or should I say, previous customers, ;)).

In closing, the HEB fresh or free program is a fantastically easy way to obtain quality, free groceries. The only groceries that are exempt from the policy are ones that have no expiration. Other than that, it is open season. So take advantage of it, and leave me a few comments on your experiences if you get the chance. Check back here tomorrow, as I will be talking about our strategy for taking full advantage of the program, and getting baskets of groceries for free:

Free Groceries Coupons? Nah…Master the “Fresh or Free” Program

40 thoughts on “Groceries for Free

  1. Jeffry,
    1. Isnt the chance of finding an expired item too less ? I mean, if u scan 100 packets of let s say frozen peas, you may or may not find an expired stuff.
    2. You need to have time. So a weekend will help
    3. Any such grocery saving offers elsewhere ? Walmarts or Krogers or other retailers
    4. HEB anytime has really good products. I shop for fresh vegetables, ice creams, cereals, choclates, buns and tortillas. But if this activity helps, I can shop for more.

    Nevertheless, the activity should be fun and fun will double, when you get so many items free.
    No membership or pre – registration required right ?

  2. Shri, I think you will be very surprised to see just how many items are expired. We have literally gotten hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for free, all in one trip. I will post tomorrow about our specific strategy. Yes, you do need to have time to do it, although we typically find nights to be the best, versus weekends (we are usually very busy on the weekends, however). Currently, we haven’t looked at other stores since HEB started doing this, which has only been a couple of months ago. They had done this in the past, then stopped for an unknown reason. And yes, they do have very good produce, especially at the HEB Central Markets.

    And yes, there are absolutely no memberships, pre-registration or anything that you have to do. Just walk in as a normal customer, and you can participate.

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  4. The “Fresh or Free” policy is also offered by a chain of stores in Ontario, Canada – the chain is A&P and Dominion. I find it quite easy to find expired items. Usually, if you find it expired in one store, then you will find it expired at almost every other store in the chain. And sometimes, the store’s don’t remove the expired products, so I can go back a few days later, and get the same things for free (plus, it’s a very quick and easy trip to run in, and go straight to the expired stuff – it’s almost too easy).

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  7. My Aunt and I go out and save literally $800 bucks a month EACH and every month doing Fresh or Free. We love it and love the great food as well. Keep up the great work Dominion.

  8. I think this guy is full of baloney and i think you need to get you facts straight before you post nonsense.
    the employees get paid well.. actually paid better than most .. HA!

    its sad that you dont see what your really doing.. the more you get for free.. CAUSES the prices to go up.. eventually.
    Your cause the store to lose money .. yeah your getting stuff for free.. but in the end.. your paying more for milk!

  10. GET it right:

    You obviously don’t know much about economics or the grocery industry. Items such as milk, eggs, bread, etc. are often referred to as “price taker” items. That means that there is plenty of supply, and no differentiation between the products offered and the stores selling them, to the point that stores don’t determine the price, the market does. So if they increase their price over their competitors, they just won’t sell any. Think about it, if Randall’s was selling 2% milk for $4.30, and HEB was selling 2% milk for $3.99, where would you buy milk? You see what I mean. There is no difference in these products, therefore the low price wins.

    Further, these stores are very likely saving money in not having to hire additional employees to police the expiration dates. So what I am suggesting here is that HEB is paying customers to police their expiration dates, instead of employees. So no real difference in the money spent on the part of HEB, just a different philosophy.

    When you are looking at informational articles, you need to be sure to think it all the way through, so that you don’t end up looking bad, such as the case is here.

  11. Dear Jeffry,

    I read what you wrote about HEB fresh or free policy.
    I would like to ask you if is it possible to find the policy written somewhere? I’m asking you that because one time my husband went to HEB, did everything right but had a hard time with the cashier, who didn’t want to give the groceries for free because he never had heard about their own policy. Finally the manager came and solve the problem. But I think it would be much easier just bring along a copy of the fresh or free policy.
    Thank you very much.

  12. I recently found out about this program. I have been getting about 5 free items a day at our local H.E.B. It’s kind of funny because that last time I did this (yesterday) the store had stockers follow me. Every time I would work on an isle a stocker would follow me and check the expiration dates right next to me. It got obvious once I got to the third isle. It was pretty funny, and made it a little more entertaining. Anyways, I have noticed a problem, and I have a question. I have located a lot of expired items every day. On a 2 hour visit I will find aprox 15 items that are expired. Unfortunately only about 5 of the 15 items would have anythin (in date) for me to get. For instance I went down the “chips isle” and noticed that all of the Snyder Pretzels were expired. I put the expired bag in my cart, but I could not find a bag that was “in date” for me to take home. Ive noticed that with spagetti sauce, orange juice etc. What is the policy then? I have just put the items back on the shelf. It dosnt seem fair the more I think about it. It takes a lot of time to locate these items. Does anyone know if they are obligated to switch the item with maybe another item from maybe the same manufacture under the same price? What do you guys do when you run into this problem?

  13. I wish I could say that you are ll wonderful people, but I work for a smiliar company and know how this policy has helped to keep my pay rate low and slow in it’s rate of increase. I work very hard every day and know many fellow employees that do as well at many stores. Not that any of you care about the people who attempt to take care of your needs. How many of you work in the retail world? Customers have this practice we call treating the employee like a “nothing”. Come up to our department or our register and you immediately talk down to us (that is if you have enough respect to talk to us at all!) and think we are all just pushing buttons blindly like monkies all day. Then you come up and take advantage of this fresh or free and already have a big chip on your shoulders, reminding us how high above us you are (at least you think!) But no hard feelings . . . just remember, it only leads to low pay rates, higher prices and bad attitudes.
    Remember the phrase;
    “You don’t know what it’s like until you walked in the shoes of another!”

  14. Dominion & A&P in Canada are discontinuing their Fresh or Free policy as of September 4th. IT will be a sad day for all of us that love this policy. My husband & I have gotten $1000’s of groceries through fresh or free since the beginning of the year. Within the last week i think we have gotten about $900. Vitamins, olive oil, coffess, etc. The policy should help the stores clear the old merchandise from the shelves, but it is rare that they actually do this just like Carolee noted you can often go back in a few days or the following week and same expired item is still there on the shelf.

  15. where can i get a copy of their policy!? i want to be sure to be doing it right and they seem to keep changing it on me! IT’S JUNK! this is a great thing and i’m glad i have learned it but they treat you really badly…….. it’s so not for the weak of heart! hehe!

  16. yet again they “changed” it on us! yes some “big pants” or so she thought employee decided she would come over and say! oh we can’t do it after 10 it’s a new rule! and then excorted us out! so we let them put back our basket full of stuff! dang thing is they missed out on a bunch of sales cause we also had a bunch to buy! i cannot believe how rudly they treated us! we tried to call corp but you know they close early so with no advail there! oh well! but yuh as we were sitting there and then that smart arse girl came and took our tags! omg we were not even rude to them!!!!!!!!! i guess it made her feel good to feel like she had her big girl panties on for the night! uhhhhh i’m just discusted! it’s not that they wouldn’t let us do it so much it’s just that they treated us like criminals……… we were even cleaning their shelves! it’s beyond me! i mean if they had such and issue with this then you would think they would take the items that we clearly take off the shelves and go and pull the expired junk! but no……….. it still sits there months later!!!!! shoot lunchables were 2 months old!!!!!! how does that happen? people are feeding that junk to their kids! yuck! well n e way that was my rant and rave for the night!

    moms on our mommy board won’t shop there n e more because they keep getting home with expired junk! we don’t tell n e one about the policy but shoot after this i might as well tell all the 300 plus mommies and we all go at rush hour sence that seems to be more convient for them ……. NOT! it’s just beyond me!!!!!!!!!!!!!! we were coming late so we were not in the costumers way and didn’t hold up the lines n e other time…….. HONESTLY!!!!!

  17. After reading several comments posted here, lemme put in my two cents worth. I get free stuff daily (yes, I said daily) at my Hill-Country HEB. Because life is short, and Quid Pro Quo, and, yes, because I have walked in the retail-clerk’s shoes before, I treat everyone at HEB with respect and know most of them by name, greeting them by name with gusto always. A raport has been established whereby they kiddingly ask me "what did you get today," at times. Sometimes I’ll quip back something like "Jeez, slim pickin’s today, my family’s gonna starve to death!" Sometimes I’ll find out-of-date stuff and not get anything free, to show my appreciation for their program. I always thank them–even gave the store a heartfelt Christmas card–and call their San Antonio corporate office often to give compliments and appreciation for their great employees.

    Call it good Karma, reap-what-you-sew, Quid Pro Quo, or whatever. I feel it’s a win-win deal for HEB and myself! ;}

  18. I was wondering if there is a printed copy of their policy. Some stores will give you items in exchange if they are out and others won’t give anything unless same product.

  19. They used to have this policy at Albertsons. Because of a bunch of inconsiderate shoppers it went away. The stores were getting trashed by treasure hunters. We did it for several months and never left the store with less than $100 in free groceries. I don’t know why you would publish the HEB policy. We never trashed the stores and were always polite, even when the managers weren’t. I think it is perfectly ok to take advantage of their policy. They set it, and they will take it away when it is abused. I have had a local chain here tell me that they would go out of business if they had that policy. I have found 5 year, yes 5 year expired food products on the shelves. Always check the dates

  20. Jeff, question! Lately I’d been going to HEB’s close to closing time and getting items for that date, waiting till after midnite, then checking out and getting the items for free………last nite, i was told now you have to wait until the following morning and can no longer get these items after midnite……… this something they are making up as they go along or
    in reality what is considered expired??? the actual date or ‘close of business’???

    • I’m not for sure, but I believe what’s happening is they want to have a particular manager on duty to approve the fresh or free items. In general, this manager would be working during the day, so you would have to find the items during the day.

    • Our Central Texas HEBs do this too. This is designed to give them a chance to remove the items. It is considered unfair for you to find an item expired for 10 minutes, if the store has not had the opportunity to remove it.

      My issue is in the 31st Street Temple Texas store. They will deny your items if someon else has gone through with the same items in the last 30 minutes, regardless of whether you know the person or not. They make up different rules all the time. The other central texas stores are pretty professional though. Harker Heights has changed the rules a few times too, you just have to know how to manage their rule changes. We still go there all the time though.

  21. This was a manager that told us this…… i’ve been to this same store approx same time different dates and it’s worked before with different mgrs so i get the impression some managers tend to make up their own rules as they go along….what i would like to know is how can i find out what the corporate policy is, should i contact the corporate office & will they relay this information??

    • I actually contacted corporate about the 31st Street Temple Texas store. All they did was relay the message to the Temple store then the manager called me. He made up a few more rules and nothing happened. They are very unprofessional there, but if you find stuff, get it regardless.

  22. I used to work for HEB, I now am a huge fan of the “Freshness Guarantee” I use it almost daily. I work in Bastrop but live in another city so I get to hit a few HEB’s. Yes Central Market does honor this policy! My husband and I have walked away with enough meat to feed our family of four for weeks at a time. Enough to get a deep freeze to store the meat.

  23. To all,

    As a former employee of HEB from 15 years ago, I know all about Fresh or Free. I do it all the time. I have been doing it for quite awhile now. What you may or may not know is that by us removing the items, it helps in a few ways. Not only do we take expired items off the shelf that buyers who dont pay attention to the dates get. But we also save the store thousands in fines. Food administrations inspectors in the area fine the stores per item when they do their inspections. So the policy is in place in order to protect the store from these fines and continue to provide the customer base with the freshest products possible. My time and energy is keeping the items you buy fresh. Again, the prices of the items are not going up because a handful of people are getting free items. When demand and the economy drive price changes it changes. The company saves thousands by giving hundreds of dollars in food away. It is win win for the store, as they get the items removed and they reduce the possibilities of fines. If you are able to do it, then go for it. If you are too uptight to do it, then good, more for me. My family will eat it for you.

    This is not a hoax, or gag. This is a real policy designed to protect the store. Try it out, and when you go from paying 500 a month for groceries to paying just 40-50 dollars, let me know how you like having the extra cash. I can use mine to offset how much the military doesnt pay me and use it to provide other items for my family.

    • Rob:

      That is great input. I assumed the store was giving away the items to try and prevent law suits from someone having a reaction to expired food/food poisoning. I had no idea there were inspectors that issued fines for out of date items.

      Thanks for the great tips!

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