Let’s make America healthy again! With obesity and diabetes on the rise, consumers have become victims of unhealthy snack options. On the flip side, what if healthy snacking could help you by introducing you to the fifth flavor, umami? Or as Karsten Ch’ien spices it up by saying Yumami.
Co-Founder Karsten Ch’ien launched Yumami Food Company in September 2016. A start-up in the early stages of the CPG industry, Yumami has set out to make it easier for people to eat better on the go. By combining his Asian heritage with American values, Karsten has been able to introduce sophisticated Asian flavors with plant-based protein to create healthy snacks with no added sugar. Or as we like to say, he put the yum in umami.
“I wanted to give people a healthier and tastier option for snacking.”
Karsten grew up in Hong Kong and “like any Hong Konger loved to seek out delicious foods from many cultures. When I left to the US for college the thing I missed the most was the food.” With an undergrad degree in Anthropology from Yale University and a JD from Harvard Law School, Karsten started exploring the idea of launching a CPG company after conducting research in food policy and public health.
Karsten’s stomach kept grumbling as he moved on to work at LeadDog Marketing Group in brand strategy. “I loved that job because we worked with a lot of consumer facing clients and I was better able to understand the laws of marketing.” Karsten quit in 2014 and set out to find his two co-founders, Ian Kwok and Lawrence Reutens to build his venture. The team recently pitched at the Project NOSH conference in LA where they won the inaugural Pitch Slam prize of $5K. Talk about validation!
Why The Name
“If you are a foodie, you probably notice the word umami, the fifth flavor, in our name. The initial brand idea revolved around ingredients rich in natural, savory umami, allowing us to use less junk but still taste great. There are also a lot of health benefits associated with eating umami-rich foods. The brand evolved as we thought the natural snack market was ready for more sophisticated Asian flavors.”
“I want Yumami to be a strong brand that appeals to consumers and can be differentiated in the marketplace.”
Yumami’s products include Popped Nori Chips, priced between $1.49 to $1.99, which are a better rice chip featuring superfoods such as chia, flax, quinoa and umami-rich nori seaweed, so they have less sodium than similar snacks and you can munch on them all day long, guilt-free! They also sell Go-Dips, priced between $4.99 to $5.99, which include the Popped Nori Chips + bean based dips with exotic Asian flavors such as Adzuki ginger ponzu, Edamame green pea wasabi, Black Bean yuzu chili, Lentil roasted onion shiitake. These snacks are perfect for post-workout, on-the-go, at school or at the office (warning: your boss might get jealous).
The Distribution Model
Currently manufactured in New England, Yumami can be purchased both online and in-stores. Their business model is currently focused on grocery retail. Their Popped Nori Chips are available in over 100 stores in the NY metro area and their Go-Dip snacks will be launching at Whole Foods Northeast stores by the end of January. Their biggest challenge? Lining up manufacturing capabilities for their needs. “Small brands have a higher cost of production because of economies of scale and consumers also don't want to pay more than a certain price ceiling. To battle that, we came up with unique products and unique flavors.”
“Everything for us is about sales. Since we are only launching in the Northeast, our marketing is focused on having customers find us.” Yumami does sampling events with companies such as Soulcycle, Lululemon and after school language programs to expose kids to healthier options. “We are putting off advertising and exploring more options closer to the point of sale. The purchase decision happens right in the store when you see, and especially when you taste our product.”
Karsten tells us how important it is to “learn the margins in the CPG industry” as this could kill you. “The nice thing about the natural foods world is that people in the industry are very open to sharing their knowledge and network, whether they are competitors or not. This is because everyone is in the same fight together against big, unhealthy food.”
Tired of eating rubbish? Get out and grab yourself a Yumami snack. Yumami is also currently seeking funding from investors. Contact us and we will put you in touch.
Photo courtesy of Yumami.