When Austin Allan traveled to Madrid to study abroad in 2001, he did not know that the upbeat people, culture and lively, rich flavors of Spain that he “fell in love with” would result in a new livelihood: Tio Gazpacho. A brand of Tio Foods LLC, New York, Tio Gazpacho is a line of drinkable soups that launched in January 2013.

Although Allan returned to Spain two more times, even living in Barcelona for three years, he says he wasn’t initially interested in creating a gazpacho company or brand.

“It was just something that always kind of stuck with me because I really liked it,” says Allan, the company’s founder and chief executive officer. “I discovered it first in restaurants and then later in supermarkets. Once I found it in supermarkets, I was hooked.”

Watching success stories in the food space — like the rise of hummus, the success of vitamin-enhanced waters and the evolution of cold-pressed juices — further motivated the former financial services branch manager to follow his true passion.

“I never found my calling in that field. I just wasn’t excited about putting on a suit and teaching people how to open bank accounts,” he explains. “Gazpacho was this one idea that I had, and I was really drawn to it because I had watched some big success stories in the food space.

“Hummus became a huge category, which seems like overnight but actually took a couple of years,” Allan continues. “I watched other success stories like vitaminwater as I was starting the company, [and] I noticed the cold-pressed juice space and started studying that and with the players, like Suja and Evolution Fresh and Blueprint. Once I saw how quickly that took off, I was like, ‘Alright I’m going to do the same thing for gazpacho and for chilled soup.’”

Gazpacho, a soup made from raw vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, originated in Southern Spain and is served cold. Re-imagining gazpacho for the American consumer while keeping it “authentic, approachable and accessible with lots of varieties that people want nowadays” involved a few years of research and taste testing, while new partnerships with General Mills and award-winning chef José Andrés are further growing the brand, Allan says.

The company’s first products were Clásico and De Sol. Clásico is made with tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, red onion, olive oil, sherry vinegar and garlic, while De Sol features yellow tomatoes, carrots and yellow peppers for a sweeter version of the Clásico derived from vegetables. None of the products contain added sugar, Allan says. The use of sherry vinegar, an uncommon ingredient in the United Sates, is imported from Spain to create an authentic gazpacho, he adds.

When working on the formula for recipe No. 3, Gazpacho Verde, celery and Greek yogurt initially were used, Allan notes. However, because the company wanted a cohesive line of products that were plant-based, “we stopped using the yogurt and reformulated around this idea of cumin and mint and Indian-type flavors,” he says.

In addition to Clásico, De Sol and Verde, Rosado, a watermelon soup, launched last June, while the company’s newest varieties — Maíz, a corn soup, and Fresa, which contains strawberry, romaine, basil, lemon juice, olive oil and sherry vinegar — hit store shelves in January.

‘No bowl required’

Packaged in 10-ounce BPA-free bottles and available in the Northeast at Whole Foods Market, Fairway and Fresh Direct, the company’s packaging proclaims its tag line “no bowl required,” encouraging consumers to drink the organic, non-GMO, low-calorie soups straight from the bottle for on-the-go convenience, Allan says.

“It was important to me to create a line of products that is all natural, with no funky ingredients, because that’s the kind of shopper I am,” Allan says. “I pick up labels and scan every single ingredient. … I even shy away from labels that say ‘natural flavoring’ because the best flavors are the true flavors that come from nature.

“This is going to be a really big year,” he continues. “We spent two years testing a beta product, which was an organic product, and our new line of non-GMO products just launched in January. The response has been overwhelming from a media, consumer and retailer perspective. Retailers that we had been trying to pursue for over a year started answering our calls.”

Although Allan admits that consumers and retailers might exhibit some hesitation toward Tio Gazapacho because they are used to consuming hot soup that is served in a bowl with a spoon, the company is using the power of marketing to change perceptions.

“Consumers are wanting things that are on-the-go and savory, so if you can get to them that way and not really market the product as a ‘cold soup,’ but rather as a healthy, convenient snack, they ‘warm up’— no pun intended — to the idea of drinking their soup chilled,” Allan says.

Tio Gazpacho is manufactured using high-pressure processing (HPP), a cold pasteurization method that helps the drinkable soup maintain its fresh flavors and nutrients, the company says.

“We use a co-packer that actually works with a lot of juice and smoothie companies,” Allan explains. “Some of the steps we leave out so that you get a thicker product with more consistency. … We found that our consumers don’t know about HPP or seem to care. They’re more interested in flavor. I’ve had people that are blown away to find out that our product that has been in a bottle for 30 days — they taste it and say, ‘wait a second, this tastes like it was just made’ — and that’s because of the HPP.”

However, Allan says that one of the biggest challenges that Tio Gazpacho had to overcome early on was looking like a high-end, cold-pressed juice. To combat this confusion, a refreshed packaging design that utilizes a simpler label, which includes the word “soup” along with the silhouette of a spoon, has helped the brand more clearly convey its message, he says.

Partnerships drive growth

As Tio Gazpacho’s consumer awareness grew, attention from investors followed. The company benefited from $1.25 million Series-A funding from General Mill’s business development arm, 301 Inc.

“Launching a new product is a scary, expensive proposition, but the funding and expertise that comes from working with a company like General Mills has been invaluable,” he says. “They’ve helped us with sourcing, they’ve helped with the formulation of new products and cost, and the business side. … They’ve given us advice on branding and consumer perception. In short, they’ve taken Tio Gazpacho to places that I could never have imagined.”

Starting last November, the company has been working with Michelin-starred restaurateur Andrés and his company, ThinkFoodGroup. Through the partnership, the company is fostering new product development, assisting with branding and marketing, and helping to expand the gazpacho brand in retail, foodservice and hospitality, and more, Allan says.

“I’ve been a fan of José and his restaurants for years … because he uses such great technique,” he says. “I had pursued him for a while and then the opportunity presented itself and I jumped at the chance. Working with General Mills and José has been a dream come true.”

Allan says that the partnerships have enabled the brand to expand its operations. In addition to new products in the pipeline, the company soon will expand distribution to the West Coast and Southeast, with the Midwest also in sight. Additionally, it is working on a multi-serve format for foodservice, allowing companies and restaurants to buy gazpacho in bulk, and plans to co-brand a new product for the Andrés’ Beefsteak chain of restaurants, he says.

“We feel like we’re the pioneers and creators of the drinkable soup category,” Allan says. “We’re excited that more people are paying attention. This is going to be a tremendous year.” BI