Founder Spotlight: Shari Ford
Tell us a bit about your company
Tohi is a female-founded, plant-based wellness brand innovating performance and longevity-focused products from Aronia Berries, a Midwest-grown, phytonutrients, and antioxidant-rich regenerative specialty crop. Ready-to-drink clean-label beverage in the market, with a product pipeline from upcycled pulp by-product.
What inspired you to start your business / what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?
Poor diet is the leading cause of illness in the United States, causing half a million deaths per year related to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the vulnerability of those with these underlying health conditions. A new global focus on Food as Medicine and Nutritional Interventions has emerged as a priority as we seek natural, sustainable approaches to make us healthier and more resilient to chronic diseases and viruses. The future is functional! Plant-based phytonutrients and antioxidants are nature’s defense to help protect our bodies from stressors that lead to chronic disease, susceptibility to viruses, and premature aging. The Tohi Solution.
Tohi innovates phytonutrient and antioxidant-rich consumer products from a sustainable specialty crop and core ingredient, Aronia Berries, which are native to North America and sourced from Midwestern growers. Aronia is a versatile, functional ingredient with research supporting a beneficial impact on heart, immune, brain, and bone health.
Tohi innovates functional consumer products packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants in convenient and accessible formats.
Photo credit: Tohi
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
We were only fully in market with our first product, a ready-to-drink beverage when COVID hit and our path to retail shelves was totally disrupted. Emerging from that challenge we found our value proposition — immune support — was more important to consumers than ever and we received new interest and orders from key retailers including Albertsons and Hy-Vee.
What about your personal background, experience, or perspective fuels your passion for this venture?
Tohi is the perfect expression of the conﬂuence of my experiences and inﬂuences: including my grandparents' farm, my love of the outdoors, my passion for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and my career focused on building and innovating.
What is an obstacle you anticipate grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
One of our biggest challenges is that our core ingredient is a premium, specialty crop that is harvested only once a year. It’s a fragmented and immature growers community with an equally immature supply chain supporting the growers. There is ample current supply but we have to align with the best growers as we scale our business and balance supply and demand.
What are a surprise or two that you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
I think the lesson is NOT to be surprised. Literally, anything can happen — and it does. Within the same day, you can experience an incredible high — validating experience and an equally low, and challenging issue can surface.
How can the WAFFA community help you?
We are always seeking relationships with influencers and those who have networks they can access for potential investors, strategic relationships, and international opportunities.