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Detroit, MI

Brian Rudolph on bringing Banza to a store shelf near you

When you talk to Brian Rudolph about the food startup he co-founded, Banza, you will inevitably hear him talk about its potential as a billion-dollar business.

And that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Rudolph is a young man who recently graduated from a prestigious college and did a two-year stint with a startup with Venture for America in Detroit. Confidence is not something he is lacking.

And the idea sounds pretty good, too. Banza is gluten-free pasta made from chick peas. It is aiming to disrupt a big but largely unchanged market in pasta. Rudolph believes Banza can do to pasta what Chobani did to yogurt. Before that happens, he needs to get Banza onto store shelves.

“It’s pretty complicated,” Rudolph says. “Way more complicated than I thought it would be. The good thing is you only have to do it once and then it’s easier. There is a pretty standard process with retailers.”

Banza can currently be found on shelves in Eatly stores in Chicago and New York City. Rudolph is also working to get it on shelves in all 211 Meijer stores before the end of this month. He is also speaking to other retailers.

“Our goal was 200 stores by the end of the year,” Rudolph says. “Everything else is icing on the cake.”

Rudolph and his team have been able to accomplish that this summer through networking. Banza made an appearance on Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank-style show for entrepreneurs on CNBC, earlier this summer. One of the judges on that show also has a ownership stake in Eataly, and was so impressed with Banza that he cleared the way to get it on the store's shelves.

“One of the cool things about the show is it started a snowball effect,” Rudolph says. “It definitely got a lot of conversations started.”

Banza also competed in a summer business plan pitch competition for startups in downtown Detroit. While it didn’t win the competition it did provide an introduction to a mover and shaker in the Meijer corporate team. That opened the door to getting the product on all of the big-box retailer’s shelves.

That was last spring. It has taken that long to go from green light to product on shelves.

“The process has been an all-summer process,” Rudolph says.

- Written by Jon Zemke

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