Tohi Ventures’ Shari Coulter Ford discusses the groundbreaking elevation of the Aronia Berry, a historic yet under-commercialized superfood like no other!
Shari Coulter Ford is melding her lifelong passion of maintaining a healthy lifestyle with her innovation-focused business acumen and influence of her grandparents’ farm to spearhead Tohi Ventures – a company committed to bringing the Aronia Berry to a larger consumer audience. We spoke with Shari to learn more about this new venture and relatively unknown super plant.
Tohi (tow-hee) is a female-founded, science-based consumer brand with a strong philosophy of a nutrition first approach to wellness. We innovate phytonutrient, antioxidant-rich products from Aronia Berries, a sustainable specialty crop native to North America and grown in the Midwest. Our lead product in market is a ready-to-drink beverage.
I have followed a non-linear career path as an equity investor, entrepreneur, corporate executive, non-profit board chair and intrapreneur. I met Elma Hawkins, Co-Founder of Tohi, in my role leading healthcare-related investments for a private fund. Elma has more than 35 years of experience in biotechnology drug development, corporate development, fundraising and general management, with a focus on oncology. Elma and I quickly discovered that we both shared a fundamental belief that what you put in your body has a huge influence on your overall health and well-being. We knew we wanted to build an innovative brand on that theme.
I studied business models and became fascinated with single-ingredient success stories like acai, pomegranate and CBD. Following this path, I learned that Midwestern farmers were converting some of their acreage to specialty crops like Aronia –which, candidly, I did not know much about. In researching Aronia, I discovered two things. First, I learned about its fascinating history and use by Native Americans for medicinal and nutritional purposes. Second, I learned that there exists considerable academic, clinical research about Aronia’s functionality, health benefits and unique nutritional composition.
The lightbulb moment was the realization that Aronia could be the next single-ingredient success story. It’s a rare opportunity to bring a historic, yet under-commercialized super plant to a new consumer audience.
Widely researched, Aronia has unique phytonutrient and antioxidant values. Its amazing micronutrient profile boasts higher levels of antioxidants than any berry - four times the level of blueberries and twice that of acai! Antioxidants are widely studied and are believed to improve heart, bone, immune and brain health by inhibiting the oxidation of free radicals to reduce inflammation. A healthy immune system is the body’s greatest defense against viruses and bacteria. Research shows Aronia also has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, contributing to a healthy immune system.
Tohi meets consumers where they are with an easy-to-understand value proposition. Antioxidants are essential to maintain a healthy immune system and they provide a whole-body benefit!
We know health-conscious consumers want next level information about what they are consuming, where it comes from and how it benefits them. Through our academic and commercial research partnerships we are providing that front-line, cutting edge information about plant-based phytonutrients and antioxidants and how they benefit human performance and longevity.
Tohi is building a platform to position this versatile plant as a ubiquitous ingredient for innovative products across food & beverage, nutraceuticals, nutricosmetics and even animal health and nutrition.
We are currently raising our next round of funding which will enable us to manufacture new products in our pipeline and continue to innovate and respond to consumer demand. As the retail market rebounds, we anticipate more shelf space and moving into larger retailers. We also continue to look for meaningful partners, both domestic and international, in which we can expand our current and future product lines.
Tohi beverages are bursting with the immune-boosting antioxidants of Aronia Berries, a specialty crop we source from Midwestern growers. Clean label and non-GMO certified, Tohi has multigenerational appeal and provides a whole body benefit.
Tohi (Tow-hee) is a Cherokee word meaning wellness. The name pays homage to the fascinating history of Aronia Berries, which are native to North America and were used by Native Americans for their nutritional and medicinal values. We are honored to bring this unique and special plant to a larger consumer audience in a convenient and affordable manner.