Business Monday

Startup Spotlight: Tio Foods reinvents soup

Austin Allan founded Tio Foods. Its first product is Tio Gazpacho, a drinkable soup.
Austin Allan founded Tio Foods. Its first product is Tio Gazpacho, a drinkable soup.

COMPANY NAME: Tio Foods

Headquarters: Wynwood

Concept: Tio Foods is on a mission to reinvent soup. Ditch the spoon, get rid of the bowl, forget about the mess: Its first product line, Tio Gazpacho, is soup that is as convenient as it is delicious, offering single-serve bottles for a premium organic light lunch or healthy snack on the go.

Story: Austin Allan lived in Spain for four years in the early 2000s and fell in love with gazpacho. He returned to the U.S. and worked at a startup in Washington, D.C., and then later for a large bank in New York, but he never found his calling. In 2012, he left his career and New York City behind to move to Miami to start a gazpacho company — with no food industry experience. 

“I am passionate about this product because it is a game-changer for the soup industry. We make a product that is certified organic, harms no animals, creates little waste, can be consumed on the go, and is going to shake up the soup industry,” Allan said. “Gazpachos are the first of many products that we are going to offer that will change people’s perceptions about soup.”

Tio Gazpacho has wholesale distribution in 14 states; it also has direct distribution in all 50 states through tiogazpacho.com. Its biggest customers are Whole Foods, FreshDirect.com, King’s Markets, Balducci’s and Shop-Rite. The company works with UNFI and Kehe, two of the largest distributors of natural, organic and specialty foods in the U.S., and is actively working to expand distribution in Florida and the Southeast.

Launched: Company founded in January 2013; first product launched in September 2014.

Management team: Austin Allan, founder, CEO and Totally Important Officer. Carolina Braunschweig, VP of sales.

Number of employees: Four.

Website: www.tiogazpacho.com.

Financing: Allan invested $100,000 of personal funds to start the business, then raised $325,000 in a friends and family/seed round that closed December 2014. Currently raising $500,000 through CircleUp: https://circleup.com/c/tio-gazpacho/

Recent milestones reached: CEO was chosen to participate in a two-year emerging brands forum organized by Coca-Cola. Won a Best of East award at Natural Products Expo East, the largest organic food trade show on the East Coast. Drinkable soup named as one of the hottest food trends of the year by the Specialty Food Association (organizers of the Fancy Food Shows), SELF Magazine and CNN Money.

Biggest startup challenge: Without having a finance background, Allan said convincing investors that the concept was financially viable was a huge challenge. He spent the summer updating his business plan with the help of his advisors to show investors why this is a winning proposition. He turned to Circle Up to attract the interest of investors who want to write smaller checks. “And Circle Up is a great way to market your business in the investment community,” he said.

Next step: Launching a Watermelon-Cilantro Gazpacho in early 2016, and in the planning stages of an entirely new line of chilled soups (that are not gazpachos) in mid-2016. West Coast expansion in early 2017.

Strategy for next step: “I have assembled a rock-star team of food industry veterans that are advising me every step of the way,” Allan said. They include Eric Schnell, founder of Steez Tea, and Debbie Wildrick, a former Tropicana executive.

Nancy Dahlberg, ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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