Creators of unique products from the Lone Star State are relishing the sweet taste of success as winners of H-E-B's Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best contest. A panel of expert judges narrowed a field of 25 to four finalists on Aug. 19 and 20 at the Houston Food Bank, and the winners received cash prizes totaling $70,000 and consideration for coveted space on H-E-B shelves in 2015.
The judges included Chef Michael Skibitcky, Dean of the H-E-B Culinary Academy and a tenured professor at the Culinary institute of America; Sean Robertson, H-E-B's Cooking Connection Regional Merchant; Armando Perez, Senior Vice President of Operations for H-E-B's Houston Region; Chef Jason Dady, Executive Chef and Owner of numerous San Antonio restaurants; and H-E-B Chef Scott Tompkins, the company's Technical Food Consultant in Recipe Testing & Design. Criteria included product quality, marketability and readiness for production as well as the makers' suitability as retail suppliers.
"The final presentations were a wonderful display of ingenuity and vision," said Chef Skibitcky. "Our state is prime territory for smart, inventive food entrepreneurs. The number of exceptional entries submitted for the Quest for Texas Best competition solidifies Texas' growing reputation as a foodie state."
Grand Prize ($25,000 and featured placement as a Texas Best Primo Pick):
Nanette Watson's Frio Farms (Concan)
Not all extracts are the same—just ask Nanette Watson of Frio Farm in Concan. Watson is a true connoisseur of extracts, using only Tahitian vanilla beans and controlling temperature, number of beans, quality and type of alcohol when creating extracts. The result is a pure, rich and complex extract, miles away from others available in the marketplace. Frio Farms' array of extracts include Bourbon & Cane Sugar, Rum & Honey and Tequila & Agave, as well as more traditional flavors.
First Place ($20,000):
Hector Alba's MaxFrut (Arlington)
Hector Alba, creator of MaxFrut, delivers a sweet, fresh alternative to high-calorie frozen desserts. The Arlington-based company has produced Texas' first frozen whole fruit bar. With just 70 calories and gluten-free, MaxFrut is delightfully free of artificial colors and sweeteners. Fruit purists can choose from among blueberry, raspberry or strawberry treats.
Second Place ($15,000):
Pilar Gonzalez's Habibi Gourmet (Mission)
Pilar Gonzalez, owner of Mission-based Habibi Gourmet, blends fresh ingredients and yogurt to create the 100-percent natural DIP-IT. Featuring five different flavors including cilantro, jalapeño, green olive, chipotle and piquin, DIP-IT is perfect when paired with vegetables, crackers or chips; drizzled on pastas, seafood or chicken; or as a creamy base for your own recipes.
Third Place ($10,000):
Sara Vela's Vela Farms (Victoria)
Sara Vela's Texas roots run deep. Vela and her family farm and ranch 33 acres of land in Victoria that have been in her family for more than 100 years. From Fig Preserves and Ginger Habanero Jelly to Texas Sweet Tea Jelly and Strawberry Balsamic Serrano Jam, Vela's selection is sweet, spicy and always full of the fresh produce from the farm.
The Quest for Texas Best competition drew entries from 128 towns across the state. Through two qualifying rounds, H-E-B Business Development Managers chose the 25 finalists for their taste and flavor, customer appeal, value, uniqueness, market potential and differentiation from current goods at most H-E-B stores.
Among the finalists were six products from the Houston area, five from the San Antonio area and four from the Dallas area. Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and Waco yielded two finalists each. Beaumont, Victoria, Willis and Waxahachie each had one finalist.
The Quest for Texas Best competition is a project of H-E-B Primo Picks, a 2-year old statewide program. H-E-B Primo Picks invites customers to enjoy products that are unique, delicious and possibly new to their palates. Primo Picks selections represent the best of what is in stores, such as H-E-B MooTopia®, H-E-B Queso Poblano Chicken Sausage and H-E-B That Green Sauce.