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Azure Standard: Making Healthy, Natural Foods More Affordable
The Stelzer family has been farming for generations, leaving the world of chemical fertilizers behind in 1971 to adopt organic farming practices to restore the soil’s health. Ever since, the Stelzer family has worked to provide customers with wholesome and responsibly grown foods that serve as the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle.
The Stelzer’s operate somewhat of an umbrella, encompassing three Azure arms: Azure Standard, Azure Farm and Azure Husbandry.
“We chose to call the farming operations Azure Husbandry because we don’t see ourselves as mining or just farming the land,” expands David Stelzer, CEO of Azure. “We believe we have a relationship with the land so involved that we consider ourselves married to it.”
David’s grandfather purchased the farm and passed it on to David’s father, who in turn passed it to David in 1989. “I don’t know that my family has ever done anything else,” admits David. “Everyone in my family is passionate about the business. We believe it and we live it 100 percent, every single day.”
Over the years the Stelzer family farm has grown from 2,000 acres of dry wheat and cattle ranching land to a diverse 4,000 acres sprawling across Oregon, which includes 100 acres of orchards. Azure employs roughly 110 employees across all of its operations, with headquarters located in Dufur, Ore.
A New Frontier
The Stelzer family soon began a push to extend its reach across the western United States. Azure gradually evolved from a contract farming operation specializing exclusively in organic foods, into a full-service producer, processor and wholesale distributor. Azure’s product portfolio was once primarily dedicated to grains, beans, flours and other bulk dry goods, whereas the company today manages over 8,000 SKUs.
Not all of Azure’s products come from the Stelzer farm, however. The company employs a staff of buyers dedicated only to produce, sourcing the highest quality and responsibly grown produce from farmers across the region. Additional buying teams work with branded goods produced by reputable manufacturers with like-minded goals.
Azure is committed to representing only earth-friendly, natural and wholesome products. Though not all of Azure’s products are organic, customers can rest easy that genetically modified foods and artificially colored items are always excluded.
Shirking Distribution Conventions
Distribution of Azure products is likewise unconventional, starting with a $550 order minimum where each individual person must order at least $50 worth of produce.
Azure delivers to customers across the western half of the United States; as far east as Kentucky; as far north as the Canadian border; and as far south as Texas. Orders are loaded onto semi-trucks and delivered to customers at predetermined drop points along established delivery routes.
Azure keeps overhead low by ordering in bulk and delivering only to consolidated points, ensuring astronomical delivery fees don’t eat away at the savings of buying in bulk. Customers can call Azure to determine the closest drop point. If the customer is outside of Azure’s regular delivery network, the company will work with the customer to establish a new one.
Once in the network, customers can shop online or peruse the Azure catalogue and place orders by phone. Online shipping displays real-time inventory levels so customers can be sure to score seasonal items while still available. Some of Azure’s customers are mom-and-pop shops or co-ops serving up wholesome natural foods to the local communities. A large majority of Azure’s customers, though, are independent bulk purchasing clubs, where community members unite to save money by buying in bulk. Shipments and payments are then divided up amongst members.
“These buying clubs have become a focal point of our business because it provides our customers an opportunity to meet on a regular basis and interact with one another,” expands David. “Our business isn’t directly forging these connections, but we like to think it facilitates that process and helps bring our customers together simply by providing a regular meeting place and time.”
Building a Community
Like any business Azure strives to continue evolving and bring in new products to delight its customer following. Azure maintains a new product panel of employees, comprised of buyers and enthusiastic customer service employees who identify products that appeal most to Azure’s client base and sort through the nitty-gritty to add it to Azure’s catalogue. Azure also maintains a product request form on the website for customers to use.
“We add about 150 new products every other month,” estimates David. Some recent newcomers include fresh produce, which Azure only began carrying around 2009. Azure also added an agricultural and gardening section to its product lines to sell organic fertilizers, heirloom seeds and a soy-free, organic chicken feed products produced by one of Azure’s neighbors.
“The gardening and agriculture category is one of our fastest growing segments and the soy-free chicken feed has done particularly well,” says David. The growth has taken some of the Stelzer family by surprise, though, especially because the company invested in a 65,000-square foot warehouse in 2007. The previous facility was only 15,000 square feet with one-third the amount of overhead space. The Stelzers built the new warehouse certain that it would house the company for at least the next 20 years, according to David, but the building has already filled up.
“The last few years have felt like I’m on a bronco, pulling the reins back as hard as I can,” jokes David. “The last thing we want to do is grow so fast that our service suffers. We don’t have any plans for a major expansion of our facilities in the near future, but it’s something to think about.”
For now the Azure team will focus on continuing to provide its clients with the best-tasting, wholesome and highest quality products. David’s sons have also joined the company to help with the farming operations. Keeping all of that in mind, David is ready to stay on course, dedicating Azure Standard to helping customers live healthier, happier lives without breaking the bank.