Exclusive New You Interview with Shari Coulter Ford
By: Paul Benevich - newyou.com
Shari Coulter Ford, CEO and Co-Founder of Tohi™ (Toe-hee) Aronia Berry Antioxidant Beverages, does a deep dive into her premium wellness drink and its key ingredient, the Aronia Berry—an indigenous alpha berry bursting with 4X the antioxidants of blueberries.
Shari has immersed herself in the world of wellness beverages and the extraordinary health benefits of antioxidant-packed Aronia Berries. Add in a commitment to sustainability through a farm-to-can consciousness and you’re served a premium, immune-boosting antioxidant drink with an elevated taste created by a female-founded business that thinks deeper.
In an industry flooded with performance drinks Tohi rises to the top due to its key ingredient, the Aronia Berry. A specialty crop sourced from Midwestern growers, the Aronia Berry transcends “superfruit” status with its rich, nutritional profile and remarkable antioxidant power—delivering the highest total measure of antioxidants of any plant source. Aronia Berries contain twice the amount of antioxidants as açaí berries, and four times as many as the king of antioxidants, blueberries.
New You connected with Shari and the conversation flowed from the whole-body benefits of Aronia Berries to why relationships with small farms give Tohi an edge in a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Tell New You readers about yourself.
I’m an entrepreneur to the core and I’m very fortunate to have had a career and life experiences that have led me to this place. Creating Tohi has been the perfect expression of my expertise and influences including: my grandparent’s farm, my love of the outdoors, my passion for a healthy lifestyle, and my career focused on building and innovating.
Was it a hard to leave the corporate world and launch your own brand?
I’m always taking risks and pushing boundaries. So the transition to an entrepreneurial path was very natural for me. I have never felt more invigorated, inspired and committed to something – than the challenge of building this brand, Tohi!
What is Tohi?
Tohi is a wellness beverage with a unique core ingredient, Aronia Berries, a specialty crop grown in the Midwest. The name Tohi is a Cherokee word that means “wellness.” We chose the name to pay homage to the history of our core ingredient, Aronia Berries, which were used by Native Americans for both their nutritional and medicinal values.
What makes the Aronia Berry a “superfruit”?
Their super power is a unique combination of micronutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants. Studies show that Aronia Berries have the highest total antioxidants of any other berries, including açaí, elderberries, cherries, goji and blueberries.
What are the nutritional health benefits?
Aronia Berry’s unique and high levels of antioxidants can help support immune, heart, brain and bone health. The anti-inflammatory effect of Aronia Berries is key because inflammation unchecked can lead to a variety of chronic diseases. We like to say that Aronia has a Whole Body Benefit!
Why is small, locally grown “Farm-to-Can” production important?
Consumers are focused on healthy foods and traceability; they want to know where ingredients come from. There is also a greater awareness on nutrition and its role in supporting a healthy immune system. Our Farm-to-Can ethos resonates because it’s easy to understand and easy to incorporate into a healthy lifestyle.
Explain the importance of a “Specialty Crop.”
Tohi sources Aronia Berries directly from small, independent growers across seven Midwestern states. These growers have made significant upfront investments, and many did so without any assurances of a brand like Tohi becoming a buyer. True innovation in this space – creating and building healthier-for-you food and beverage brands – is dependent on a quality source for core ingredients. Our relationship with Aronia Berry growers is essential and meaningful.
What are “Clean Label” standards?
Clean Label signals to consumers that there are minimal ingredients and processing involved in creating the product, that the ingredients are natural, and there is accountability and traceability. Tohi contains only five natural ingredients, including: 30% single-strength Aronia Berry juice, water, natural flavors, citric acidand monk fruit extract.
Monk Fruit sounds heavenly.Tell us about it.
Native to Southeast Asia, Monk Fruit gets its name because it was used by Buddhist monks centuries ago. A natural and very intense sweetener, it’s a premium ingredient for Tohi because of its healthy attributes as well as how it enhances the taste of Aronia Berries.
How can Tohi protect us from harmful Free Radials?
Free radicals in our bodies result from normal processes and from external factors like stress, and exposure to pollutants. They can lead to cellular damage and chronic diseases. Antioxidants are nature’s defense. The best source of antioxidants is a plant-based diet. Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 adults get enough fruits or vegetables daily. A can of Tohi delivers a daily serving of fruit—and it’s convenient.
Tohi has an impressive roster of professional athlete Brand Ambassadors. How does Tohi help sport and athletic performance?
We are fortunate to partner with elite athletes who embody our brand through their commitment to nutrition, performance and career longevity. Antioxidants have a whole-body benefit, but for athletes specifically, much of the focus is around the anti-inflammatory and post-exertion recovery effects.
Describe the delicious flavors. What’s your favorite?
We currently have four flavors. My favorite is The Original – just the pure flavor of Aronia which I think is a sophisticated taste and like red wine it has tannins for a dry mouth feel. Our other flavors are delicious too, including Dragon Fruit, Blackberry Raspberry and Ginger Lime.
They’re also great mixers for adult beverages, especially Ginger Lime. (So I’ve been told!)
Tohi is a female-founded brand. Why is this so important today?
Inclusion and access is important, to both myself and our Co-Founder, Elma Hawkins, PhD. Equality and opportunity is vital to the entrepreneurial ecosystem driving innovation in the healthier-for-you category. Research confirms that women still take more responsibility for the household, including buying groceries and making decisions about nutrition for themselves and their families. So female entrepreneurs innovating in this space understand this dynamic.
We’re just at the beginning of the Tohi story. Our vision is to create a platform for this amazing plant. We believe Aronia can be the next major ingredient that you will see across the food & beverage to nutricosmetic sectors. It’s comparable to how CBD burst onto the scene, or açaí, coconut water and pomegranate.