Twang's product ZAS! sits on the shelves of the conference room. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Strolling through the streets of Mexico City while on a business trip three decades ago, Roger Treviño hit upon an idea that spiced up an entire category in the food and beverage industry.

The concept was packaged citrus salts and, once Treviño found a raw product supplier in California, he began blending and distributing the salt packets to convenience stores locally in 1986. Ten years later, his company Twang began marketing the product as beer salt and then added flavored margarita salts, boldly introducing the Mexican tradition to consumers for the first time in the United States.

Since then, Twang has grown into a mid-sized business that manufactures and ships seven brands of Southwestern-inspired flavored salts, sugars, and spice seasonings to stores and restaurants in 48 states and overseas. Some of Twang’s other brands include the snack topping Twangerz, a food seasoning called Zas!, flavored coffee topping Café Zuca, and Twang-a-Rita, a cocktail dressing.

It was in the late ‘90s that the citrus salt product Twang became so popular as a dressing for beer, they developed the miniature beer bottle shaker packaging to more closely associate the product with beer flavoring. Today, Twang sells 10 million mini-bottles of its branded Beer Salt a year, and 400,000 in Texas alone.

Twang isn’t stopping there. In August, the dry-goods maker introduced its first liquid product – the Michelada cocktail mix, which is a blend of sauces, spices, tomato juice, and chili peppers that can be added to beer, spirits, or even Topo Chico, to make a beverage similar to a Bloody Mary.

Roger, or “Tommy” as his friends know him, at age 69, has stepped aside and named his daughter Elysia Treviño-Gonzales CEO of Twang and his son Jake Treviño key account executive. Sons Roger Jr. and Patrick are also involved in the business as partners. Longtime family friend Edmundo Macias is director of marketing and innovation.

Twang key account executive Jake Treviño, Roger Treviño, and Twang CEO Elysia Treviño-Gonzales

In all, Twang employs 60 “Twangers,” including two food scientists, at its manufacturing plant and a 25,000-square-foot warehouse on W.T. Montgomery Road in far west Bexar County. The company moved from its downtown San Antonio headquarters in 2005 when it needed more space to accommodate growth. Even then, Twang’s origins in San Antonio weren’t well-known.

Only in recent years did the company realize its fans might like to know Twang products are made in San Antonio.

“We were just kind of keeping our heads down and doing our work. [Then] we were like, oh wait, you know, we should tell people we are from here,” Elysia said. “We’re proud to be from San Antonio. … It’s time for us to start really sharing how Twang came to be in San Antonio.”

In the last 10 years, as consumers have drifted toward a preference for craft beers and cocktails, Twang has tried to keep up with new products that add the “fun and flavor to eating and drinking,” as their motto goes.

“We like to think ‘once a Twanger, always a Twanger,’” Macias said. And, because today’s consumers also like to try new things, Elysia added, they also are accepting of Twang’s newer offerings.

“I think one of the things that Twang’s been able to do is stand for flavor and quality,” she said. “So as we’ve developed new product lines like Twang-a-Rita or Zas!, we’ve kept that consumer in mind, and the idea of being able to share flavors and taste profiles that are similar to our culture.”

During a recent tour of the plant led by the manufacturing manager Carlos Alvarado, a machine custom-made for Twang filled, sealed, and cut packets of seasoning at a rate of 500 to 600 packets a minute. The flavor packets were then quality-checked and packed by Production Associate Ariatna Hernandez Acosta and loaded onto a pallet for shipping.

Ariatna Hernandez Acosta oversees the Pickle Punch packets as they are distributed into boxes.

In the early days of the company, however, the product was shipped to the Treviño home in large barrels. “We would count out 200 per box and pack them at home, and then [Roger] would go from convenience store to convenience store,” Elysia said, her father taking the product to market by simply asking store managers to try it.

Eventually, Roger began working with a distributor to expand the product into more stores, and these days, it can be found in most area liquor outlets and big-box retailers, as well as at convenience stores. Twang also began promoting its products for non-alcohol or “spirit-free” beverages, combining the Michelada mix, for example, with sparkling mineral waters such as Topo Chico.

Next door to the packing room, but strictly off-limits during tours, Alvarado said, a research and development team works on new products to come. Yet, in only a few months, the Michelada mix already has attracted a following. Recently, Southerleigh Brewing put Twang’s Michelada on their menu and told the company it’s selling twice as well as any michelada beverage they’ve served in the past.

“Growing up, using all our products, we would drink each other’s [micheladas] at home all the time,” Elysia said. “And, it kind of really became one of those things that, as we were continuing to pioneer beer salt, we wanted it to be all things for beer. The michelada is the beer cocktail.”

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.