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H-E-B has declared an unprecedented five winners among the 25 finalists in its 2016 Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best contest, naming a first-place tie along with one winner each for the grand prize, second place and third place, and increasing winnings to a total $90,000.
Judging criteria included product quality, marketability and readiness for production as well as the makers' suitability as retail suppliers. The winners, who received cash prizes and whose products will be on H-E-B shelves in 2017, are:
- Grand prize ($25,000 and placement as a Texas Best Primo Pick): The Texas Pie Company Original Pie Dough Puck (Kyle), with Chef Julie Albertsons
Since 1988, Albertson has been crafting homemade pies, learning from her grandmother to use organic ingredients such as fresh fruits, dairy milk and eggs. Today, her pies are known for their handmade quality and farm-fresh fillings. Using pecans from Texas growers and a homemade crust recipe, Texas Pie Company’s Pecan Pie has been the company’s No. 1 seller for more than 25 years.
- First place ($20,000 each): Kitchun’s Holy-Coco-Cacao! No-Grain-Ola, with Gloriana Koll and Keesha Waits; and Bagel Dots Bagel Dots (Houston), with Purav Patel and Aarti Garehgrat
Kitchun’s No-Grain-Ola mix contains no grains, gluten, soy, dairy or GMOs, and is made simply with tasty, good-for-you ingredients. Meanwhile, Bagel Dots bite-sized bagel balls are filled with cream cheese and other ingredients of choice, making them suitable for on-the-go consumption.
- Second place ($15,000): The Culinary Cowgirls’ Lone Star Queso, with Alexandra Worthington
Austin-based Culinary Cowgirls offers quesos made by Texas chefs, loaded with all-natural ingredients to create spicy flavors such as Lone Star Queso, Roasted Hatch Queso and Salsa Con Queso. Every batch is hand-stirred and overseen by the women who invented the recipes.
- Third place ($10,000): Humble House Foods Ancho & Morita-Smokey Tamarind Sauce (San Antonio), with Luis Morales
Influenced by the heart and dedication of family-owned farmers and ranchers in San Antonio, Morales established Humble House Foods with an emphasis on real food, real flavor and real sustainability. Using multidimensional flavors from dried, aged and smoked chilies, as well as real fruits such as mango, papaya and golden raisins, Humble House Foods creates pesto, hummus and hot sauces focusing on the brand's motto: "Flavor First."
The judges included Scott McClelland, president, H-E-B Houston; Winell Herron, H-E-B Group VP of public affairs, diversity and environmental affairs; Scott Pettit, H-E-B director of selling; Jeff Thomas, SVP and GM, Central Texas Region, H-E-B; and Chef Michael Skibitcky, dean of the H-E-B Culinary Academy and a tenured professor at the Culinary Institute of America.
"Quest for Texas Best is a win for all Texans," said Harris. "Local businesses are given a chance to grow with H-E-B, and our customers benefit from the added variety in stores as well as access to the best locally sourced products.".
The competition drew entries from 101 towns across the state. Through two qualifying rounds, H-E-B business development managers judged submissions on taste and flavor, customer appeal, value, uniqueness, market potential, and differentiation from current products at most H-E-B stores. Among the finalists were 10 entrepreneurs from the Houston area, two from the San Antonio and West Texas areas, four from the Dallas area, six from Austin, and three from the Rio Grande Valley.
The H-E-B Primo Picks competition invites customers to enjoy products that are unique, delicious and possibly new to their palates. Selections represent best-in-store products and include previous Quest contestants such as Four Escobars BBQ Sauces, The Jank Gourmet Barbecue Sauce and Armadillo Eggs from Western Grillers.
San Antonio-based H-E-B operates more than 370 stores in Texas and Mexico, with more than 96,000 employees.