Two local food companies are looking to showcase their best products at the upcoming Fresno Food Expo, but the experience is sure to be different for the pair. One has never attended a food trade show and began bottling their product just a year and a half ago, while the other is a seasoned trade show attendee that has been in the game for nearly 20 years.
Tia Fina's Salsa, founded by Julian Farhoud of Hughson nearly two years ago, began as his aunt's simple salsa recipe. While visiting Tia Fina in Austin, Texas, Farhoud's mother eventually learned the recipe and brought it back to Hughson. Farhoud's mother would make the delicious salsa for parties and events, and afterward, friends and family members would beg Farhoud for more, even encouraging him to begin bottling the product.
"My friend texted me and said, ‘Hey, can your mom make some more of that salsa? I'll pay for it,'" said Farhoud. "It was one of those click moments for me. I thought, ‘You know what? I'm just going to do it.'"
Soon enough, Tia Fina's Salsa was being produced in bulk, bottled into mason jars and being sold at the Crows Landing Flea Market. Farhoud's success at the flea market inspired him to take the product to different local farmers markets, where he continued to sell out. Farhoud took the experience gained at farmers markets and used it to land Tia Fina's Salsa a spot on the shelf of its first grocery store at Village Fresh Market, and now, the salsa can be found in over 20 independent grocery stores and fruit barns.
"Our salsa stands apart from others because of the fire roasted method we use," said Farhoud. "Our peppers are all truly fire roasted, and we're a really clean, healthy salsa. There's no sugar added, there's no vinegar added, and our preservative, citric acid, is a really clean, natural preservative.
"When you taste our salsa, it's just a really fresh, crisp taste."
The Fresno Food Expo will be Farhoud's first, where he hopes to land Tia Fina's Salsa a spot in larger retailers, like Save Mart. Buyers often peruse and sample the different products at events like these, said Farhoud, and talking to retailers directly at an expo helps both sides skip the hassle of making phone calls and setting up meetings.
"This gives them the chance to come to us and try a sample, and if they like our product, they'll probably be willing to put it into their stores," said Farhoud. "It makes it a little easier."
Farhoud, a Hughson High School graduate and integral part of the community, also hopes to put the town on the map on an international scale with his product.
"We have Hughson written on the front of our jars, and I did that because I really wanted to promote the town," he said. "It's a small town, but it's a great town."
While Farhoud will be attending his first food expo in Fresno in an attempt to get his product some notoriety, Wendy Larson, general manager at Big Tree Organic Farms in Turlock, is a food expo expert, having touted the company's certified organic almonds at shows for nearly 20 years.
The Fresno Food Expo will be a bit different for Big Tree, however, as the company will be displaying a brand-new product for attendees to enjoy.
"Being an organic almond company, we're always talking about the same thing. We sell certified organic almonds in bulk and as ingredients, but we've just introduced our certified organic chocolate-covered roasted almonds," said Larson.
The new, chocolate-covered almonds are imported from Europe and feature a simple, flavorful chocolate over a roasted almond dusted with a dark cocoa powder.
"We're calling it intelligent indulgence, because it has some of the key nutritional features but also makes a nice snack," said Larson.
Larson said the company decided to attend the Fresno Food Expo because it was not only close to home, but they also saw it as a perfect opportunity to receive feedback on their newest product.
"More than seeking out sales at the expo, we're looking for additional feedback. We're still figuring out whether or not the product fits our profile, or if we need practice talking about the product," said Larson. "This expo is more of an intimate setting, where we can target attendees to get some feedback."
Both Tia Fina's Salsa and Big Tree Organic Farms hope to wow the crowds with their products at the expo on July 27, but Farhoud was able to get the ball rolling a bit early this week as he travelled to Fresno for the show's New Product Awards. Farhoud entered all three flavors of Tia Fina's Salsa - mild, spicy and hot - into the competition for new attendees, which features two categories: Buyer's Choice Award and People's Choice Award.
While the salsa did not qualify for the final round of the Buyer's Choice Award, where products were reviewed and ranked by a judging panel, Tia Fina's Salsa is still up for the People's Choice Award, which gives the public the opportunity to vote for their favorites via Facebook and the Fresno Food Expo website from now through July 25.
The Fresno Food Expo will be held July 27 at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center, 848 M Street in Fresno. To cast a vote for Tia Fina's Salsa in the New Product Awards, visit www.fresnofoodexpo.com/awards/new-product-awards.