Beef jerky made in Hilmar won a top prize for new products at the Fresno Food Expo on Thursday.
The Buyer’s Choice Award went to Aubrey Lim for jerky made with beef hearts at the SnackMasters plant on Lander Avenue. She refined it during a spring internship with the company that was part of her studies at California State University, Fresno.
The sixth annual expo showcased food and drink from the San Joaquin Valley to buyers for grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses around the world.
This is one of two awards being presented at the expo. It also had a People’s Choice Award, determined by online voting that had not been tallied by press time. All 33 entrants were up for it, including Top Line Milk, bottled on a dairy farm near Winton.
Lim, 20, said last week that the jerky idea stemmed from her experience in rock climbing, with its need for lightweight food. She was up against many experienced food makers in the judging Thursday morning.
“There are so many established companies here, and I think what they saw in me was the opportunity to grow,” she said. “This is all very exciting.”
Lim also received interest from several retailers. Among those was Gene Gong of General Food store in the Tulare County city of Woodlake. He attends the expo to find new products he can carry in his small grocery store.
“She has a good product, and it’s different and that is what I like,” he said.
One of the benefits of the expo, Gong said, is finding something new.
“A lot of times we don’t realize that some of the best products are coming right from our own backyard,” he said.
Billed as the nation’s largest regional food show, the expo – held at downtown’s Fresno Convention Center – connects nearly 1,000 buyers representing local, regional and international companies with more than 130 Valley food makers, eager for some space on grocery store shelves.
Organizers have said that one of the expo’s goals is to let the world know about the caliber of products made in the Valley. While some companies, like Wawona Frozen Foods, Gerawan Farming or Busseto Foods, are widely known, many others are not.
Chef, author and television personality Simon Majumdar came to this year’s expo as a guest of the event. Majumdar said he was blown away at the diversity and quality of the goods.
He was also surprised that more people don’t know about the Valley and its food makers. He was impressed with family-run companies, like Valley Lahvosh Baking Co., that are being run by the third generation.
“Fresno has all these stories about their companies, that they sometimes seem afraid to tell,” Majumdar said. “I say you should be proud of what you have here.”
Los Angeles transplants David Wolfe and Courtney Carini, co-owners of Crazy Go Nuts, came specifically to the Valley to expand their business, flavored walnuts and walnut butter. They’ve partnered with Poindexter Nut in Selma and are in the process of building a manufacturing plant in Fowler.
“It just made a lot of sense for us to be close to the source of our walnuts,” Wolfe said.
The partnership is something expo officials hope to see more of as food entrepreneurs see the Valley as a site for launching new products.
“We really need to embrace and build on that,” said Amy Fuentes, expo manager. “The more we can make this region all about food, the more people will want to be here.”
John Holland: 209-578-2385