Earthquakes, Entrepreneurship and Endurance Athletes: The Azure Story

Superfood startup Azure’s founder looks to take on the nutrition industry, Mexican poverty, and challenge the typical grower-supplier relationship with the Oxford company’s Kickstarter campaign.

Written by Alexandra Littaye, Founder and CEO of Azure Foods

“Quitting my job to do my startup was an excellent move” is a thought you wouldn’t expect to have while a 15-story building at the epicentre of an earthquake collapses around you.

Yet, it’s one of the few things I did think of — along with love for my family, partner and the stranger weeping in front of me — when I was in the Titanium Torre in Puebla on the 19th September.

Walls cracked, the ground shook, marble came crashing down. When everything stopped, I resumed my meeting in the car park, excited to be alive and to be launching my startup.

On the surface, I established Azure to bring pinole, the favoured snack of the legendary runners in sandals, the Tarahumara, to the wider world. It’s a delicious, versatile smoky flour, a staple of the ancient Aztec diet, and made of blue corn. Indeed, blue corn is surprisingly blue, tasty and nutritious!

But the core mission of Azure is to address the glaring deficiencies of a global food system I investigated for four years at the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford University.

Born from my love for the unpronounceable active volcano Popocatepetl and the people who live on it, these communities are the producers of pinole. My host family would prepare it into a hot drink that would hug me from the inside. It’s impossible to find unless you live in a rural Mexican community that make tortillas by hand.

As I came to intimately understand through my PhD, a product’s quality starts in the field. We’re dedicated to preserving the rich diversity of Mexican corn, indigenous farming techniques of intercropping and the lands they grow on.

We’re working hard to ensure Azure benefits directly our producers and their communities. That is why we sell directly to our customers: profits that would otherwise go to wholesalers and retailers are redirected to purchasing the manufacturing machines for our producers. With this model, our raw producers will own the infrastructure that turns blue corn into Jubáami bars. This is how a quarter of what you pay stays in Mexico.

Bringing about this change is why, after coming face-to-face with chunks of merciless falling masonry with my name on it, I went straight back to work happy to be where I was.

What’s more, pinole is perfect to tap into the soaring demands for gluten-free foods, the fastest growing industry of the UK and US food markets. We spent a year preparing and pitching Azure, winning the Idea Idol and the Oxford Humanities Challenge last year. We’ve also partnered up with the Jesuit University Ibero, as well as the international NGO Slow Food to help us bring pinole to the global market while bringing positive economic change to the people who produce it.

We are now ready to launch with the first energy bars in the world made of blue corn (or pinole). They’re the perfect fuel for endurance athletes so we named our bars Jubáami, which means “ultimate” in the language of the Tarahumara. Made of 30% pinole, Jubáami bars are free of gluten or refined sugar; they are vegan, and kosher.

If you want an ancient source of energy to fuel your workouts, are sceptical about food labels or simply want a deliciously nutritious snack to keep you going, join our campaign and support our Kickstarter.

Azure’s Kickstarter page can be found here. You can find out more about Azure here, and follow them on Twitter here.