With its diverse collection of boldly-flavored and wildly-nutritious dried fruit snacks (including plantain chips and jackfruit chews!), Amazi Foods is on a mission to change the category while disrupting the traditional supply chain. Renee Dunn started Amazi in 2016 after studying abroad in Uganda and seeing the need to offer work opportunities to its people. Today, Amazi partners with farmers in Uganda to sustainably and ethically source and manufacture its products. Learn more about Renee and the Amazi team’s mission here, and check out some other interviews with Renee from The Wise Consumer, Vegpreneur, and Illuminate Supply Chains.
Now let’s dive into our questions with Renee on how she has been managing business during the pandemic.
How has COVID impacted business?
Like so many other brands, COVID has really shaken up how we approach business. It has been a challenge as we just launched in Sprouts late last year and were picking up steam in the SoCal region. We had scaled our supply chain and production for national distribution and have been in a bit of a limbo with growth as the buyer review process for many retailers has been put on hold.
What are your primary retail channels?
We have seen a bit of a drop off in sales, as prior to COVID a bulk of our accounts were independent retailers, foodservice, college campuses, hotels and hospitals. We have since transitioned our business online and are really leaning into e-commerce traffic. We are also working on some private label deals. COVID has allowed us to re-strategize and start conversations with retailers that we wouldn’t have talked to before.
Let’s talk distribution, how has this been for you?
Because our products are not necessarily an essential good, the biggest struggle we have had with distribution is that orders from stores were not being delivered.
And how have you managed an international supply chain? What challenges do you face with this?
With our international supply chain we have had some freight issues, as well as limited access to sourcing, which has increased price. From a budget perspective this has made it hard to plan, and has been a mental battle. It is a tug of war of either missing opportunities or produce too much.
Have you considered sourcing ingredients from places outside of Uganda?
We are committed to Uganda and the supply chain we have in place. There are so many opportunities within Uganda!
With the absence of sampling, how do you get customers to try?
It has been challenging seeing as people are not really looking for new things or in the discovery mode. To counter this, we’ve been testing and seeing great results with employee voucher programs to get store employees to try the product and become brand advocates.
What do you think customers are most drawn to? How do you differentiate?
I believe the scene in the food industry is shifting and consumers are looking for brands that taste good and are nutritious in addition to doing good. While, yes, Amazi does have a strong purpose and mission, I don’t always think that is the thing to lead with. In our marketing we try to find a way to intertwine the uniqueness of the product with our purpose. Our products are a twist on traditional dried fruit with bold flavors and exciting textures, healthy and minimal ingredients, and support a sustainable supply chain. It’s the synergy of everything together that makes it work!
How do you manage your social media, partnerships, etc?
I manage them! Haha… I’ve had support in the past, and am in the process of searching for the right fit to outsource, but as of now, I manage all of our social + email marketing initiatives. We recently launched an IGTV series that highlights other makers and brands with similar ethos.
Tell us about how you built your team, what do you look for in prospective hires?
People must have a willingness to communicate + be dynamic. I appreciate folks who are able to express where they need support, what is working/what isn’t, the ability to pivot and rethink things, as well as take and give feedback. As a small business, there is so much for all of us to learn, and I need a team who is able to be evolving together!
What has been your proudest moment thus far?
I’ve had a few but: 1. Seeing our products on the shelves at Sprouts for the first time!, 2. Seeing our new factory during production out in Uganda – seeing it buzzing with young locals, excited to be there and working as a team… all of which wouldn’t have existed without Amazi.
As an entrepreneur, how do you maintain balance?
Beyond Amazi, I am a part-time yoga teacher and fitness instructor. I often struggle with taking breaks, but I find that movement-based activities recharge me. Health and fitness has always been a very important part of my life.
What advice do you have for other early-stage food and beverage entrepreneurs?
While it’s important to stay current and ask questions, I lose my way whenever I get caught up in what others are doing. Keep your blinders on, stay focused, and know when to stay in your lane. Everyone’s path is different, and it’s not worth comparing!
Everyone’s path is different, and it’s not worth comparing!
What 3 items do you always have in your grocery cart?
Arugula, fresh fruit (Depends on the season, but right now, peaches are a must), salmon
What other brands and founders do you admire in the CPG space?
SO MANY!!! I LOVE so many of the brands we’ve partnered and collaborated with, such as Soom Foods, Joolie’s, . In particular, though, I have huge admiration for like-minded brands like Beyond good, Kuli Kuli, and Yolele … all working toward more sustainable, equitable supply chains like ours.