Free UHV SBDC workshop offers insight in getting food onto store shelves

The story of how Vela Farms came to sell products at H-E-B and gourmet stores across the country is filled with both challenges and triumphs.

Sara Vela will share her family’s story during a University of Houston-Victoria Small Business Development Center workshop on Wednesday. Bringing Your Food Product to Market will be from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the SBDC office, 3402 N. Ben Wilson St. The workshop is free and open to the public.

Joe Humphreys

“Sometimes the story of someone’s business accomplishments can spur success in other business pursuits,” UHV SBDC director Joe Humphreys said. “Certainly, there are lessons that can be taken away from the story behind Vela Farm. I hope food product businesses or those people thinking of going into that venture will take two hours and attend this workshop.”

Vela and her family operate a farm and food product business on 33 acres of land in Victoria. They sell a variety of more than 40 handcrafted jellies and artisan products, including jams and marmalades. The family also sells seasoning, sea salts and dessert toppers.

Vela said she will talk about the history of the farm, the products and how the operation has grown through the years. The farm has been owned by her family for more than a century.

Sara Vela

Getting a product on the shelves requires preparation, she said. Having patience doesn’t hurt, either.

“There are challenges of being a small business in a largely corporate world, but it can be done,” she said. “I’ll explain what it entails and how to scale up from a mom-and-pop operation.”

Vela submitted habanero jalapeno jelly, orange chili marmalade and Texas sweet tea jelly in the H-E-B 2014 Primo Picks contest, the retailer’s contest for Texas food and beverage suppliers. Winners were chosen based on taste, flavor, customer appeal, value, uniqueness, market potential and differentiation from goods at H-E-B stores.

Vela Farms was the third-place winner in the contest. The family won a $10,000 prize and its products have been featured statewide at H-E-B stores. While the contest has helped drive business, it also has led to more responsibilities, including increased production.

To register for the workshop, call the UHV SBDC at 361-485-4485 or toll free at 1-877-895-7232, or email

The UHV SBDC is part of a nationwide small business assistance program that serves the small business community in partnership with federal, state and local governments. The center offers business advising, training and technical assistance to existing and start-up businesses in an 11-county area.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro