Race and the debate over cultural appropriation exploded in the early months of 2020. Even as western tastes have shifted to become more diverse and inclusive, the products available have limited and dated representations of cultures and cuisines (Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Mrs Butterworth were some of the most visible brands put under the spotlight). What’s more, culturally diverse products rarely translated into financial gains for the people from those same cultures.
Supermarkets and grocery stores, especially, have been criticised for the kinds of products they stock in their ‘world food’ or ‘ethnic’ aisles and why they still exist considering how commonplace some of these foods and ingredients have become. Kim Pham, co-founder of Asian meal-starter kit company Omsom, adds, ‘Asian condiments should be next to western condiments, noodles next to pasta, and so on. The grocery store layout should reflect the rest of the country.’
Judging from the large number of food brands that have launched recently, this may become a reality sooner rather than later. Investors, too, are starting to recognise the unmet demand.
The world-foods market was valued at $36.5m globally in 2018 and is projected to grow by nearly 12% by 2024, with the Asian American food market forming a large chunk of this, according to insight company ReportLinker. There are nearly 20 million Asian Americans in the US, an increase of 72% since 2000, making the Asian population the fastest growing population group in the country. They also form the fastest growing buying power of the US population, according to data analyst Nielsen. All this points to significant opportunities in the sector, despite the proportion of new entrants.
Here are some new brands reimagining what a world-food product should look like today.
Fly by Jing
Most people have a preconceived idea of Sichuan food. Combining chilli with ancient Chinese nutritional knowledge, founder Jing Gao sells three versions of her sauces and spices.
Fermented vegetables are often served as a side dish in Korean cuisine. Lily Hirasawa launched Yumchi Kimchi in 2018, bringing an organic, sustainably sourced kimchi to the market and showcasing the art of fermentation that is passed down through female family members.
Shuro Shirin offers a range of Persian ready meals, delivered to your door. All dishes are halal and arrive packaged in woolen insulation.
Meaning ‘the cream of the crop’ in Hindi – and used to describe the creamy insides of a coconut – Malai is a Brooklyn-based ice-cream shop that produces traditionally Indian flavours such as star anise and masala chai.
Often used as a sugar substitute in Sri Lanka, kithul is a palm syrup with a treacle-like consistency. Generations of farmers have preserved this syrup, which founder Chanchala Gunawardana wants to bring to the west.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a meal served without a condiment in India. Alongside cooking sauces, Brooklyn Delhi is bringing chutneys and pickles to the masses.
Mate, a caffeine-rich beverage made from an earthy herb, is a staple in several South American cultures. Hearth’s canned yerba mate combines the traditional herbs with fruity flavours.
Palm wine is a local alcoholic beverage in Nigeria that Pamii is introducing to the wider world, while respecting the traditional methods of preparation. It taps palm sap in south-western Nigeria and champions transparent sourcing.
Sandro Roco was walking through an Asian supermarket when he noticed the stark difference between well-designed US brands and the old feel of legacy Asian drinks. The result was Sanzo, a sparkling- water brand with traditionally Asian flavours.
Adobo and sazón are staple spice blends for Latin cuisine, and yet are traditionally made with MSG. Out of a New York kitchen, Loisa set out to build a transparent Latin seasoning company.
This article was first published in Courier issue 38, December/January 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.