The 25 finalists at grocery giant H-E-B's quest to find the best made-in-Texas products for its Primo Picks contest gathered at the Houston Food Bank Wednesday afternoon to learn their fate. They'd spent the past two days giving presentations to a panel of judges that included H-E-B executives, media members and San Antonio chef Jason Dady.
At stake, the grand prize winner would take home a $25,000 cash prize, a spot on grocery store shelves statewide and the title of Texas Best Primo Pick.
The winner, Nanette Watson's Frio Farm, represents the best of what Texas has to offer. Frio Farm's all natural extracts are made by a family of sixth-generation Texans in the tiny town of Concan (pop. 175) on the banks of the iconic Frio river.
Watson bounded to the stage to accept her prize, hugging sons Justin and Austin before the family posed for pictures with a trophy and a giant check.
"From a chef's perspective, it's all about flavor and taste," Dady told CultureMap. Calling Watson's products "mind-blowing," he added that the flavors like vanilla, bourbon and cane sugar and coconut are "kind of a revelation in a way."
Watson attributed her success to her cold infusion process, which takes a minimum of three months and uses high quality liquors like Jack Daniel's whiskey and Tito's Texas vodka. "We take our time," Watson said. "We go for flavor."
Watson affirmed that she's ready to be in stores across Texas. "H-E-B has been very sweet. They'll grow with us," she said. "I want an even, steady pace."
All natural, gluten-free, 70-calorie fruit bars by MaxFrut of Arlington took home the first runner-up prize and $20,000. A $15,000 second runner-up prize went to Habibi Gourmet's line of dips (cilantro, jalapeno, green olive) from Mission and the $10,000 third runner-up prize went to the sweet tea jam from Vela Farms in Victoria.
Even the finalists who didn't win one of the cash prizes had good things to say about the experience. "H-E-B is an incredible company," says Michael Briggs, whose Briggs True line of sauces and seasonings was one of six finalists from the Houston area.
Despite spending two days tasting every contestants' products, the judges and assembled finalists still found room to snack on a MaxFrut bar after the event ended. Eating when you should be full? That's when you know something's good.