Written by Kelly Stincer.
On average, 20 percent of crops harvested will never make it to the dinner table. This can be attributed to a disconnect between farmers, food distributors and end-buyers like restaurants and grocery stores. Azoti in Columbus, Ohio, has developed a cloud-based software system to address the inefficiencies and connect people across the food supply chain, giving small, local farms the chance to compete for big business.
“Growing up in an Italian household, it was always my culture to love fresh, homegrown food. We would grow our own tomatoes, and they were much better than the ones at the grocery store,” said Azoti founder and CEO David Ranallo. “People really want local farm-to-table specialty crops like peppers and tomatoes. Our software makes those crops visible to buyers.”
Traditionally, food distributors focused on finding the lowest possible prices – typically favoring large, corporate farms to small family farms. With Azoti’s software, local farmers can send a list to both buyers and distributors of exactly which crops will be ready to harvest with the simple click of a button. When buyers place their orders, farmers harvest the amount of crops they need to fulfill each order, reducing waste and allowing local farmers to keep their prices competitive.
“With our system, everyone works together,” said Ranallo. “We’ll plan with the farmers and distributors in the wintertime to agree on a price, and when the season comes, we implement the ‘just-in-time’ ordering process.”
Ranallo began his software career working on Ford’s first direct-to-consumer website in 1997. He later transitioned into business-to-business solutions, helping to launch the Salon Lofts chain that uses the internet to book hair stylists in their spaces throughout the city of Columbus. He paired his software-building experience with his passion for fresh food to create Azoti.
In 2011, Azoti attended a business accelerator course through Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier. The course included a $20,000 grant, which helped Azoti further develop their software and determine a growth path for the company.
Azoti now has seven employees and has raised $1.5 million in funding since 2012 with the connections made through Rev1. They are working with large distributors as well as buyers like Bob Evans, Nestle, Domino’s Pizza and The Ohio State University to highlight the benefits of using small, local farms. Ranallo says Columbus is a great place to make connections and be close to regional farming.
“People here really want to see you succeed, and they will help you,” said Ranallo. “Starting a business is a process. We were trucking the food from farms to buyers ourselves in the beginning, just to get some momentum and recognition in the industry. The resources here have provided the guidance and connections we needed to gain traction and be successful.”