In hands of 2nd generation, San Antonio beer salts empire looks to future

In the mid-’80s, Roger Treviño was on a business trip in Mexico when he observed the local custom of drinking beer with lime and salt on the bottle — and came up with an idea.

Upon returning to San Antonio, he began packaging beer salts in his garage and selling the products to local stores. While raising four children and working a full-time job, he founded the company now known as Twang.

“The original product of the company was a one-gram packet, and they would come to our house in barrels and we would count them out and he would go convenience store to convenience store and sell it,” said his daughter Elysia Treviño-Gonzales, who is now chair of the company’s board.

Over the next 35 years, Twang became a prime example of a homegrown San Antonio company that found success spreading Mexican-American culture across Texas and beyond.

With 60 full-time employees, it now makes a wide variety of salts for beers and margaritas in flavors ranging from grapefruit to pickle, a mix for making michelada cocktails and a sugary topping for coffee drinks. Its products are sold at H-E-B and in about 3,000 Walmart stores across the U.S.

Treviño-Gonzales now leads the company from its 50,000 square-foot manufacturing facility off U.S. 90 on the far West Side. Two of her brothers, Patrick and Jacob, work full-time managing its sales accounts.

The family recently restructured the company’s leadership, raising longtime executive Darrell Bass to the role of president so he could oversee daily operations while the siblings focus on growing the business.

“The family is still very much involved and in control of the organization, and will continue to lead the way,” Treviño-Gonzales said. “Sometimes when you’re in the day-to-day and trying to grow something at the same time, it can be a little difficult. If we didn’t have a partner like Darrell Bass, who has been with us for 25 years, that may not have been as easy of a decision.”

Twang’s signature base of flavors includes lemon-lime, lime, pickled and chili-lime. The company also creates unique flavors for H-E-B.

Kin Man Hui /Staff photographer

Treviño-Gonzales recently sat for an interview to discuss the generational change at the company, her experiences working with Walmart and H-E-B, and how the company develops flavors. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: When you were growing up, did you know that you would go into the business?

A: No. I mean, we were always raised in the organization. If you can imagine, we spent time here whether we wanted to or not, it being a family-run business. So we always were all-hands-on-deck and willing to pitch in. All of us, including my oldest brother, worked in a variety of departments over the years. The big draw-in factor for me was just the joy that our products brought to people.

Q: When did your generation of the family take over from your father?

A: Probably about six years ago, when I stepped into the CEO role is when my father was kind of, I would say, on his first retirement. (She laughs)

And that’s really where we got to elevate and expand what we were doing. We were able to see a bigger picture of, “Hey, we can play in the food service world. We can do a little bit of coffee work.” So we worked with different arenas, especially right before COVID was happening. We created a partnership with the Spurs. It’s been a transformation of Twang over the last six years.

Q: How have you and your brothers run the company differently from your father?

A: You know, in 35 years, it’s a new consumer. That marketing aspect of being able to connect with people these days when they have so many other things to connect to. It’s such a powerful thing for us to keep building our Twang tribe, because that’s really where we get the max benefit of word-of-mouth marketing. Once we have — we call them our Twangers — on board, they do that for us, they do that heavy lifting. We’re a midsize organization with a decent-sized marketing budget but we’re never going to be that brand that can have the billboards and the TV spots and all that stuff.

Q: Have you found that your brand recognition has increased recently?

A: Yeah, definitely. Part of that is just keeping the flavor profiles fresh. We will always have our core base of flavors, you know — lemon-lime, lime, pickled, chili-lime — but constantly thinking of what’s next. People like to try new things. Most of our flavors are rooted in Hispanic culture and I think nowadays people are just so much more open to trying things from other cultures and other flavor profiles. So I think that has really helped springboard this newer generation of tastemakers.

Q: How did the pandemic affect the company?

A: We were very fortunate that our products were still offered in all the places that were deemed essential. So convenience stores, liquor stores, H-E-B.

Then you flip over to the consumer and it was like, “Oh, wow, everybody’s staying at home.” So we switched all of our marketing efforts. We went to a full-on press on creating drink recipes and food recipes. We did music streaming events, we did cocktail contests online. If everybody was stuck at home we might as well make it fun, right? Create some new recipes and new ways to teach people how to use our products. We had an excellent year in 2020.

Q: How long has your product been in Walmart?

A: About seven years. It was a big deal for us to get into them, and every year we continue to expand our footprint.

H-E-B really enjoys having products that are only offered to them. They like that positioning to compete with Walmart and their competitors. They’re a great partner for us so we don’t mind accommodating and making things that are fun for them. During the summer they were promoting a watermelon margarita, and we created a watermelon salt for them. So a lot of times we work hand-in-hand with them to figure out what’s on their calendar to do the promotions.

Q: Does Walmart ever request anything like that?

A: No. I mean, Walmart’s just such a giant. That would be a pretty large undertaking.

It’s an amazing company to get your products into. With Walmart, we stick to our tried-and-true flavor profiles, especially over the years as we’ve been trying to build a relationship. We have a licensing partnership with Clamato. We created a Clamato salt and that’s in all 3,000 Walmarts.

Q: What are some of your other partnerships?

A: If you can imagine, talking about adding beer salt to craft beer when craft beer was really large and popular — we got run out of every craft beer show there was. They were like, “We’re not putting that in our beer.”

As the consumers have changed, and even the brewing industry has changed, now you think about all the new beers that are out, the mango flavors and pickle flavors. So we have a partnership with the Martin House (Brewing Co.) in Dallas. They’re going to create a Twang mango beer kind of based off of our mango chili lime salt.

Q: So you’re flexible in terms of working with grocery stores and restaurants.

A: Yeah. I think that’s been part of Twang’s success, our nimbleness of being able to adapt and meet our customers’ needs. Having that open mind of, “Okay, we can do that.” All those little building blocks of relationships have really helped us grow over the last 35 years.

Q: What are your long-term ambitions for the company?

A: We’re constantly coming up with ideas so it’s not a matter of what’s next, it’s just the tightening of it, so to speak. Continue to develop in the food service arena and make more relationships there. We definitely have aspirations to come up with a line of seasoning that really homes in our culture and how we cook at home. My family’s a big Sunday-around-the-table family, you know — constant barbecues and things of that sort.

As I mentioned, we kind of concentrate in the southern half of the United States, so the further up in the United States we can get. I think people just don’t know about us yet, so creating that brand awareness.

Q: How do you come up with ideas and form flavors?

A: We buy data from a lot of organizations, and one of the biggest ways that we follow the food trends is what is trending on menus? What is that next flavor profile? Chamoy? We will eventually be in that arena because we grew up with that flavor profile. With Twang it’s always, “How can we take this flavor profile and make it better?”

A big part of our product development is just gut feeling on what’s going on. The ability to have two food scientists on staff, for an organization of our size, is a privilege, so we can really test and trial things quickly and see if it’s going to resonate with consumers. We definitely lean into partners here locally, like Aaron Peña at the Squeezebox. We use him: “Hey, we’re coming up with this new flavor. Can we trial it?”

Q: Have you fielded offers for the company?

A: No — I mean, off-and-on, but that’s not of interest for us.

More than offers I can say that we’ve had more people wanting to try to play in our space. For a long time, (Twang) beer salt was the only beer salt on the market. We competed in a category of one. Over the last few years, we’ve definitely had people try to encroach on our ideas and our flavor profiles. And with that, it kind of leads us back to that Twang tribe. We really focus on making sure that people know the quality of our products, that we’re the originals. And to date, it’s been successful.

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