Momofuku had nearly 20 years of success as a thriving restaurant group under its belt when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Like many restaurant owners, Momofuku's leadership got creative during the pandemic, deciding to offer direct-to-consumer products. This year, its successful line of consumer-packaged goods will be front and center on more than 2,000 retail shelves including Target and Whole Foods.
How did the brand grow from brick-and-mortar restaurant to niche online darling to retail disruptor? CEO Marguerite Zabar Mariscal discusses the incredible transformation.
Momofuku had established itself as a successful restaurant group, attracting 1.5 million customers every year to its 20 restaurants across the globe. But even before the pandemic shook up the restaurant industry, Momofuku focused on expanding its reach by growing a loyal following on social media.
"We've worked hard at Momofuku to build our brand beyond the four walls of our restaurants," says Mariscal. "That work has paid off—80% of our social followers live in cities where we don't have restaurants."
The brand first leveraged this following in 2020, launching a successful direct-to-consumer line of restaurant-grade products for home cooks that included seasoned salts, crunchy chili oil, and soy and tamari sauces. "We can't open a Momofuku in every town, so we decided that we'd give people the tools and recipes to make Momofuku-level flavors in their own kitchens," Mariscal adds. "Our restaurants were closed at the time, so this was the one silver lining of that time—and our customers were grateful to get a taste of Momofuku when they otherwise couldn't."
Indeed, the brand's e-commerce business has seen 300% year-over-year growth, selling out multiple times and surpassing $1 million in sales in its first few months. When the brand launched its new noodle offerings online with limited promotion, it sold 200,000 bags in just 36 hours. The demand was clear.
Today, consumers can buy a range of products from the company's website, including seasoned salts and sauces, as well as variety packs that include selected products designed to work well together.
That said, traditional retailing was always part of the brand's master plan. "Our goal is to meet our customers where they are," Mariscal says. "Being in retail is a huge part of that." Plus, she says, Momofuku is also passionate about expanding grocery store staples to reflect the diversity seen in restaurants. "Typical grocery stores have a dozen options for olive oil but only two types of soy sauce," she points out. "You can get an endless variety of pasta but the ramen selection hasn't changed in years." Momofuku Goods, the brand's consumer packaged goods division, is hoping to change that.
Since retail was always part of the plan, the products were designed with stores in mind. As Mariscal points out, these products weren't manufactured to have the Momofuku name slapped on during the packaging phase of production. Instead, the products are developed by the Momofuku Culinary Lab and are the same ones used in the restaurants.
"We say they're restaurant grade for that reason," says Mariscal. "We've giving home cooks access to the same products our chefs use. That's unique for restaurants going into CPG."
In this way, the retail strategy bridges the gap between Momofuku fans who don't live anywhere near one of the restaurants, home cooks who want better product offerings and any lingering pandemic pains. Plus, offering multiple touch points for consumers is just good business.
Today, Momofuku branded goods can be found at Target, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Central Market and independent retailers across the country. And it continues to break records: Momofuku Goods has become the bestselling food launch in the history of Faire's, a wholesaler, and is surpassing sales forecasts month-over-month at Whole Foods. But success for Momofuku Goods is about more than stellar sales.
"We hope that we're able to use our platform to broaden the idea of what the American pantry is," says Mariscal. "If we can create more opportunities for diversity and help introduce more people to products like ours, that's success for us."