Anyone else use the New Year to take inventory? It's one of my favorite times of year. I love the process of reflecting and reviewing, recognizing progress and barriers, and creating a new, clean slate.
But of course, this year feels a little different. To say 2020 did not go as expected is an understatement. There was pain, confusion, anxiety, stress, loneliness, struggle, and immeasurable loss. I believe that everyone experienced this on some level, whether personally or collectively, some far worse than others.
I'm grateful to say that at Amazi, we've been able to stay the course and pivot to stay afloat - and believe it or not, stay growing.
Not without bumps in the road, unexpected challenges, and lessons learned, but we found opportunities for progress along the way.
Here's a peek behind the curtain of our 2020:
We launched to Sprouts and our first distributor mid-December of 2019, and 2020 started off on a high note, with a trip to Uganda, visiting our new production partners and farmers groups. We had built out our own production facility in Uganda, scaling up our capacity so that we could take a leap. We were ready to ELEVATE and grow.
We had big plans to expand in retail, to get Amazi flying off shelves... but of course, 2020 said not without a million wrenches thrown in your plans!
The initial challenges:
After resolving some initial issues with pricing at our distributors, we finally were positioned to get our snacks movin'... but when COVID hit, we saw a big dip in our sales.
Distributors were overwhelmed, focusing on getting essential items into stores; shoppers weren't going to grocery stores to discover fun, new products - they were leaving home sparingly and with a strict list of what to buy; our plans for on-the-go travel marketing and office space snacking took a pause; retail buyers stopped taking meetings or new item submissions as they struggled to keep their heads above water.
On the supply side, we had to put production on pause, as demand dipped and logistics issues arose. Ya know the whole no international traveling thing? Kind of applies to goods, too!
Air freight costs skyrocketed, and we experienced crazy delays with getting product out of Uganda (imagine a 2 week long line of trucks just to cross the boarder from Kenya to Uganda...). We had to rethink our logistics and production planning, of which we're still feeling the effects. These resulted in changes in lead times, and now, issues with inventory that was past the guaranteed shelf life to our distributors.
Despite all this, we were able to get creative and stay persistent.
📦 When sales slowed down in retail, we found partnerships that we didn't expect to with Misfits Market, Pop Up Grocer & Nordstrom, Packed with Purpose, and Snack Magic (to name a few) to help get Amazi into your hands at home through gift boxes and sustainable grocery delivery!
🛒 We ran a voucher program for Sprouts employees to say a big THANK YOU for all the hard work they were doing in stores, and to help them discover our new-to-shelf snacks 🤗
👭 We built community. Getting creative with how we collaborated with other brands to run newsletter and product exchanges, virtual wellness programming, recipe challenges, and more. We ran our #SnackonPurpose IGTV Series, sharing our Why and interviewing the founders behind like-minded brands like ours. We got our Woman Owned Business Certification. We participated in virtual pitch competitions and tastings, and even won a thing or two 😏 We strengthened relationships with our advisors, started our first raise, and have found some incredible partners (pssst, if you're interested, the round is still open!).
❤️ We served as best we could. We donated over 5000 snacks to healthcare workers on the frontlines and those in need - including 3 hospitals in NYC, Capital Food Bank, as well as to individuals through our Care Package program. We donated a portion of sales in June and July to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
💻 We relaunched on Amazon and grew our amazifoods.com online store (I have been blown away by the traffic coming through the holiday season 😍💕🙏🏼).
Online sales up 697%, with returning customers up 372% (OMG WE HAVE A COMMUNITY!), and cart size up 16% (stock up, snack up!)
🏪 And slowly but surely, we grew to over 500 stores nationally. Revenue grew by 70%, close to 2x - and we broke our initial revenue goal for the year! We launched to Erewhon Market, Albertsons United and Market Street stores... and we have about 30 new stores to announce as we hit more shelves in January 🎉
Despite all the ups and downs, this year alone, we've:
🌱 Directly sourced from 256 FARMERS of which 141 or 55% were women
🍌 Purchased 64202 KG of fruit (that's 141,245 LB, or over 64 metric tons!)
💵 Paid plantain farmers an average of 24% above market price, and jackfruit farmers an average of 68% above market price.
We've always had the goal of purchasing fruit that created additional value streams for farmers - using fruits that were undervalued in the local market, that were going to waste, or that weren't being invested in because of demands for highly competitive, low-value staple and commercial crops.
THANKS TO ALL OF YOU, we're able to truly show farmers the value that we hope to create for them in the years to come. Your snacking is what helps us reach these goals. It's been incredible to watch, and build consistency, even in the most inconsistent of times ✨
Plus, with the launch of our own production facility, we've created over 30 jobs for youth in central Ugandan communities, all of which are paid 2-3x the local wages.
For an entrepreneur who loves travel, who loves feeling on the go - traveling around Uganda, organizing farmers groups, attending trade shows, pitching stores - who thrives off of new experiences, creating new products... this was a tough year.
It was hard to feel like I was making progress most of the time - spending all of my time in my studio apartment in Washington, DC.
That said, I know I've grown in some profound ways.
💫 My persistence - that's always been steadfast for me. I've joked that I'm nothing if not persistent. But I really truly saw the effects of that this year.
💫 My ability to look at and map out our NUMBERS - I've always avoided numbers. Not because I'm bad at them - I'm an Economics major - but because I was a perfectionist, and wasn't disciplined about it. I didn't like looking at the reality of things, and instead preferred looking ahead on marketing, sales, plans, etc. COVID really made us be cash efficient and smart in our decisions. I had to cut some valuable contractors from our payroll, watch our deductions more carefully, map out weekly and monthly cash flows.
💫 Thinking over strategy and pivoting when needed - instead of getting stuck in our inventory issues, I found new channels to sell through.
💫 Raising money and forming new partnerships - when COVID hit, I wasn't sure if investors would be investing. I was worried. Through supportive advisors and networks, I was able to open conversations, to refine our deck, to build out and test our model, and to even get our first check from outside investors.
💫 Nailing that *virtual* pitch (in my sweatpants no less) - formal on the top, party on the bottom, people!
💫 Redefining my time and giving myself permission to create my days - learning that it REALLY is ok to take a walk in the afternoon, to take extra time to make my oatmeal, meditate, and journal after my workout. I learned this the hard way; I spent a lot of the first few months sitting in anxiety, wondering what others were doing with their time, looking at the competition, comparing myself to others on social media. Ultimately, I took more time to ground down, and figure out what felt right to me. This I truly hope to carry into 2021, and beyond.
It was a year of shifting, pivoting, adapting to unpredictable resistance. And although this came with immense price, I do believe that the call to create shifts and transform results in more resolve - in whatever way that shows up, a resolve to be more grounded, connected, purpose-driven, conscious, resilient, grateful....
I'm feeling much of that as we step into 2021. I feel a renewed sense of what I want to transform in my own life, and what I want to continue building for Amazi. I can't wait to have you all along for the ride!
CHEERS TO THE NEW YEAR, Y'ALL AND PEAAAACE OUT 2020.