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Jun 29, 2020

Azoti Evolves to Find New Ways to Connect Local Produce with Consumers

In 2012, David Ranallo learned that the food space needed his help. After working with direct-to-consumer programs in several industries and learning about the power of decentralization, he discovered that the same could be applied in the food and farming sector. 

“With the meat processors, the big farms, there are very few middle-class farms; everything’s in California and Florida.” Ranallo explains. 

Although he notes that it’s nearly impossible to localize the entire food-supply chain, Ranallo wanted to “portion out,” creating higher-quality product that also allows for food security in local markets.

“If something happens to California or Florida, or the U.S. Dollar gets crushed and imports from other countries cost way more, we’re gonna be in trouble, big trouble,” Ranallo says.

Instead of initially tackling the problem with software, a specialty of Ranallo’s, the founder of Azoti wanted to start by figuring out how to sell locally-grown produce to consumers. He started by working to identify the best path to get food from distributors and farmers to restaurants, hotels, and more. 

Starting Azoti as a small food “hub” that partnered with small, local farmers to create boxes full of food for individual employers and schools, Ranallo quickly realized that this approach wasn’t particularly sustainable. So, he opted for a new approach, partnering with Sodexo USA to create more direct-to-consumer distribution across corporate offices and grocers nationwide. 

Azoti works by providing software to help chefs at Sodexo-run companies and cafeterias track, trace, and report on where their food is coming from in real time, allowing for a more transparent farm-to-table experience. 

For Ranallo, “easy use, authenticity, and story-telling” are the hallmarks of his business, all aiming at keeping prices low and guiding local farmers within a network of large organizations to help them flourish.

“Azoti is a tool that enables procurement departments channel flexibility, automation and efficiency, and local connectivity,” Ranallo explains.

He’s aiming to eventually place the tool in large, Columbus-based corporate offices, such as Nationwide and OhioHealth, where employees can purchase fresh, hyper-local produce from their cafeterias. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, Azoti partnered with Sirna and Sons Produce to create Distributed Grocery, a direct-to-consumer grocery pickup program at schools, churches and other community locations in hard-to-reach and marginalized communities. Portions of purchases go toward food pantries in these local communities. This helped take the middleman of grocery stores out of the mix, providing consumers with not only safer and fresher options, but more affordable ones, too.

Columbus’ first Distributed Grocery pickup point at the Hyatt Regency Downtown – Photo by Susan Post

“Our platform does a lot,” Ranallo explains. “You just tell us who the supply chain member is, and I can tell you how they can benefit from flexibility, automation, and local connectivity.” 

Of course, all big ideas face obstacles, and Ranallo says the hurdles associated with the food space are no different. Lack of knowledge and outdated technology practices within the food supply chain and procurement-department conglomerates often stand in the way of rapid change and slow progress. Businesses like Azoti struggle to close the gap, as procurement professionals are reluctant to change and adapt to new ideas. But Ranallo is persistent.

In the foreseeable future, the entrepreneur aims to expand Azoti internationally, and he’s working with several large companies to introduce changes that will not only benefit consumers, but also farmers.

The farmer-support component is crucial, Ranallo explains. Suicide rates within the farming industry are climbing rapidly, as many farmers struggle to make ends meet amid new political and supply-chain realities. Ranallo’s goal is to help those farmers by using Azoti to help transform rural communities and the ways farmers distribute their products, as well as diversifying and sustaining their output. 

He’s hopeful that Azoti can open the eyes of these communities to new possibilities.

“Now they know they can do it, it’s just a function of who’s going to be supplying and how are we going to get the message out to individuals so they can participate,” Ranallo says.

For more information, visit azoti.com.

Click here to read this article on The Metropreneur site.