By Patricia Canole
According to history, gazpacho’s origin is rooted in mystery. Theories say Romans introduced the first gazpacho combination in Spain and Portugal comprised of bread, olive oil, water, and garlic. Later the chilled cuisine was said to be refined in Spain with bread, almonds, garlic, olive oil, salt, and vinegar. By the 19th century, tomatoes were added to the mix; hence the classic red color we all know. And although chilled soups have never reached the popularity of the hot varieties, one young entrepreneur saw the trend to change the American menus for good.
Enter Austin Allen who during college, ventured to Spain for a four-month study abroad experience. Little did he know the trip would result in a permanent four-year stay. While there, he immersed himself in Spanish culture and lifestyle finding himself drawn to the influence of gazpacho. “It was love at first sip! From the first moment I tried it, I couldn’t get enough gazpacho.”
It was not long until he found himself drinking gazpacho straight from the carton. He asked, ‘Who needs a bowl anyway—it’s so delicious.’ This passion inspired an idea which is known today as Tio Gazpacho—the first-ever bottled soup hitting shelves in six original flavors. You’ll find Clasico (vine-ripened tomato, green pepper, cucumber), De Sol (yellow tomato, yellow pepper, carrot), Verde (kale, spinach, avocado, mint), and Rosado (watermelon, cilantro, cayenne). And as of January 2017, Maiz (corn, roasted poblano, lime) and Fresa (strawberry, basil, romaine).
Following his time abroad, the thought of gazpacho lingered. However, Allan returned to the U.S. to complete his studies and in 2005 to pursue a career in financial services as a branch manager. He later received the title of a corporate trainer, and by 2012, an itch for another career change brought him to Miami. There, Allan volunteered as a member of the presidential campaign. It was in Miami when Allan decided to pursue his passion for gazpacho. “Miami was a great place to get Tio started. It is warm all year round, and there is a large Latin population that is familiar with Spanish cuisine.”
How did you land in New York?
Even though I loved my time in Miami, New York has always been my home, so after three years I came back to build upon what I started in Florida. I guess I always knew that I would have to move back to New York to build my brand. New York is the capital of the world!
Has your family always supported your decision to work as an entrepreneur?
You can only imagine how my parents reacted when I told them ‘I’m quitting my job and starting a soup company!’ But they know that I am not easily swayed, so they didn’t try to convince me otherwise. Now they couldn’t be more excited about what I have been able to build over these last few years.
What are personal/business challenges you’ve faced thus far? Challenges are inevitable in any business, but for a startup, the pressure is often maximized in a heightened time frame. Along the way, I learned that accepting negative feedback is often difficult but necessary. One of the biggest challenges you face as an entrepreneur is that everyone wants to give you advice, and it’s often difficult to separate the bad advice from the good. I consider myself very fortunate because I have an incredible network of entrepreneur friends that I can always reach out to for help. I don’t know if other industries are like this, but the natural food industry is excellent because there is a ton of collaboration going on between brands.
Explain your recent research trips to Spain?
Last summer I had the opportunity to spend a week in Spain visiting olive fields and the manufacturing facility where they make the sherry vinegar we use in our Clasico. Every other time I have visited Spain—and we are probably talking about 20 trips—I have always been on vacation, so to go to Spain in this role was surreal.
How have partnerships impacted your business methods/strategies?
Last year was a pivotal year for the brand. Part of the growing success is a result of two partnerships. In early spring, Tio Gazpacho closed a $1.25 million Series A funding round with 301 Inc. (General Mills’ business development and venture capital arm). I work directly with 301, Inc. to gather insights, develop connections, and establish the brand as a leader in the drinkable soup category.
With fall 2016 came another evolution for Tio partnering with celebrity chef, José Andrés, and his company, Think Food Group. Under the guidance of José Andrés, Think Food Group consults with Tio on new product development and works cohesively to expand the company’s retail and foodservice offerings.
Elaborate on Development in Gardening Partnership’s involvement in Tio.
Tio is committed to giving back and donates 5 cents for every bottle sold to Development in Gardening Partnership (DIG), a non-profit whose mission is to ensure that people all over the world have access to quality, nutritious food. I had known Sarah, the executive director of DIG for a few years before I started Tio. But sharing a piece of each sale was a no-brainer. They are changing the world through food and nutrition, specifically by building sustainable gardens and teaching entrepreneurship in developing countries affected by HIV.
Is souping an alternative and the future to juicing?
Staying true to the brand’s mission to reinvent soup. Some research also predicts ‘juicing’ as a wave of the past. ‘Souping’ is sometimes called a heartier liquid cleanse with added fibers supporting the fruit and veggie base.
What’s to come in 2017?
Maiz and Fresa are the newest flavors on shelves. Throughout 2017, I will continue to provide a healthier meal alternative but this time outside of the organic category. Tio recently worked to alter the packaging and satisfy more consumers on both a cost and convenience level.
How do you plan to change the traditional perception of gazpacho?
Tio is more than gazpacho. It stands for a healthy, fresh, convenient flavor. Tio is a low-calorie lunch packed full of veggies and rich nutrients vital to any diet. Spaniards have been keeping chilled soups a secret for far too long. It is about time that Americans get to have a product like Tio Gazpacho.
For more information on Tio Gazpacho, visit tiogazpacho.com.