Food fix

Houston startup claims HEB award and heads for shelves

Grand prize winner, Traci Johannson, 3 Sons Foods; Jody Hall, H-E-B; George Johannson; Winell Herron, H-E-B; Luke and Ayden Johannson; James Harris, H-E-B. Photo courtesy of H-E-B

Five homegrown Texas businesses are enjoying Lone Star State-sized bragging rights after a big win on August 8. The entrepreneurs are the collective winners of H-E-B's sixth-annual Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best contest, which recognizes the most innovative products. Collectively, the winners earn $80,000 in prizes, and, just as important, coveted shelf space in H-E-Bs across the state.

A Houston family leads the way, joining winners from Austin; San Antonio; Woodway; and Atlanta, Texas. Houston's 3 Sons Foods won a grand prize of $25,000 and featured placement as a Texas Primo Pick for Diablo Verde Sauce, a creamy cilantro offering. The company is owned by and operated by Traci Johannson and her three young sons: George (11), Luke (14), and Ayden (16). A portion of Diablo Verde sales goes to the International Rhino Foundation to help stop the illegal poaching of rhinos, according to a release.

First place honors — and a $20,000 prize — go to Austin's Courtney Ray Goodson for her Uncle Ray's Peanut Brittle. Inspired by her great uncle Ray's 35-year-old recipe, Goodson's offerings include Bacon Pecan, Butternut, Pecan, and classic Peanut Brittle.

Hailing from Woodway, Texas, Derek Newball landed second place and $15,000 for his EVOKE collagen drink. Capitalizing on the collagen drink trend, Newball's coconut-based products are meant to benefit skin, hair, joints, and bones, and come in coconut, mandarin coconut, and pineapple coconut flavors.

To the Moon Family Foods, based in Atlanta, Texas, tied for third place (a $10,000 prize) with its To the Moon Family Foods Nutty-Carrot Spread. Creators Kay Lynn York and Joan Reece combine carrots, pecans, and "mouthwatering" spices for a spread to be used on sandwiches; meats; or even rolled in balls, coated, and fried.

Tying with To the Moon at third place (and a $10,000 prize) is San Antonio's Grain4Grain Low-Carb Flour and Mix. Owners Yoni Medhin and Matt Mechtly recycle spent grains from local microbreweries to make a low-carb, high-protein, high-fiber flour. For every pound of flour sold, Grain4Grain donates a pound to those in need.

The 2019 Quest for Texas Best competition drew more than 800 entries from nearly 140 cities and towns across the state after a call for entries in February of this year. Through two qualifying rounds, submissions were judged on taste and flavor, customer appeal, value, uniqueness, market potential, and differentiation from current products at most H-E-B stores.

"Each of these 20 competitors displayed unprecedented creativity, style, and commitment to providing outstanding, unique products for our consideration," said James Harris, director of diversity & inclusion and supplier diversity at H-E-B, in a statement. "In fact, the entries were so good that we ended up with five winners this year. We are delighted to share that diversity and ingenuity with our customers across the state."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

Florida startup Fit:Match chose Houston for its first location of its AI-enabled retail store. Photo via shopfitmatch.com

In November, on the first floor of Friendswood's Baybrook Mall, wedged between the Abercrombie & Fitch and the Apple Store, a small studio popped up. At the window, a bubblegum assortment of balloons replaced the usual spruced-up manakin, and the shop is sparse for racks of clothing.

That's because the Fit:Match studio isn't really trying to sell clothes — it's trying to help you buy them online. By fusing artificial intelligence with retail shopping, Fit:Match makes ordering clothes online more trustworthy. The writing on the walls promised to revolutionize the way that people could: "Shop what fits. Not what doesn't," reads a neon sign. The tech might not only reduce long waits for the dressing room — it could abolish it altogether.

"You never have to try on clothes again," says Haniff Brown, founder of the Florida-native startup.

The store does have a fitting room, but Brown says it's not really for trying on clothes — it's for preparing to "get fitched," the process through which the imaging tech measures a customer's body.

It's fitting that the pop-up sits next to the iPhone giant. Fit:Match uses the same 3D imaging tech as Apple's FaceID, Brown says, which blasts infrared light at thousands of dots at a user's face. Where the light bounces off, the AI technology images the person's face. The sensors at the Fit:Match studio in Baybrook Mall expand this to the rest of the body. In 10 seconds, the AI sensor lets people sketches a customer's shape through 150 measurements.

Those measurements become indicators of how well a piece of clothing will fit the wearer. In the initial phase of the project, Brown's team fitched thousands of women — wanting to keep things neat, the company hasn't ventured into men's fashion yet — and compared the scores of the AI's algorithm with how the women scored their own clothes.

Now, once a customer has been fitched at the Baybrook studio, she can log online through an app or the company site and sift through thousands of clothes that will likely fit her. Each clothing item — mostly smaller brands that range from eclectic pieces and dresses to athleisure right now, Brown says, although he's already working to partner with better-known labels — is rated with a percentage of how well it's likely to fit the individual customer, based on her measurements and on how snug or loose she likes her wear. From the array of brands, she'll get specific matches — clothes that have a 90 percent chance or higher of fitting — that might look completely different from a friend's. Over time, the app will also update her on the latest matches.

"You're going to have this personalized wallet," Brown says, adding that this will also decrease a store's rate of return. "You will see a completely truncated assortment of clothes that are meant to fit you."

The Baybrook Mall hosts Fit:Match's first location. Brown says he chose the Houston area for its size and demographics, calling it a "hotbed to test new ideas, to get traction, to get customer feedback," and is even considering expanding to the Woodlands Mall and other places around Texas, too. It's also not far from the Austin-based Capital Factory, which brought Fit:Match under its wing late last year to help the startup raise $5 million.

In the meantime, the five-member management team at Fit:Match is focused on getting more Houstonians fitched. In the first month of operations, the studio measured more than 1,200 mallgoers, and Brown says the company could fitch a quarter million in the next two or three years.

"We think that the opportunity here is immense," Brown says.