Unboxed: 10 AAPI-founded brands to celebrateUnboxed: 10 AAPI-founded brands to celebrate
New Hope editors have rounded up some favorite products from brands with Asian American and Pacific Islander founders that will remain popular on shelves year round and inspire generations to come.
May 26, 2023
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders encompass a wide range of ethnicities and cultures from different countries, making it important to recognize their diversity rather than treating them as a homogeneous group. While many Asian Americans maintain strong connections to their countries of origin, a recent Pew Research report highlights common experiences shared within the AAPI community. According to the report, 90% of Asian Americans acknowledge the diverse cultures within their community. Additionally, 65% of U.S.-born Asians identify themselves as American in some way, reflecting their sense of belonging. As the number of first and higher-generation U.S.-born Asians and Pacific Islanders continues to rise, new cultural norms will emerge, necessitating the amplification of a wider range of voices.
In the food and beverage industry, AAPI founders have the opportunity to showcase their unique heritage, represent their community in the broader retail landscape and preserve what makes their country and immigration experience distinct. These brands also play a pivotal role in bridging cultural gaps by offering products that appeal to multiple generations and cultures, regardless of their background.
Finding support in naturals
One such brand is Pocket's Chocolates (formerly Pocket Latte), whose Founder and CEO Chris Young is a first-generation Asian American. Whereas at conventional trade shows Young says he has been met with questions such as,"Where in China is this from?" or "Have you expanded to the U.S. yet?" he says that the natural products industry has been instrumental in embracing and supporting founders from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Pocket's Chocolates chose to fully embrace their Asian representation instead of conforming to conventional norms. Young affirms, "I'm glad we did. The response from the industry, at least on the natural side, was overwhelmingly positive. And while many fans did fall off, the ones that stayed are even stronger. So it's a trade-off that was well worth it."
When it comes to product development, pricing and quality, the Pocket's team understands that the brand’s survival relied on catering to a community that already appreciated flavors like yuzu and matcha. Nonetheless, Young emphasizes the importance of approachability. "We didn't want to create a barrier for people who might want to try it but can't afford to. While we maintain high quality, we don't use fancy language to mislead the consumer. What you see is what you get. Consumers have never seen green, black, or yellow chocolate almonds before. But there's no food coloring; not even natural coloring is added. It's 100% derived from the actual ingredients that it claims to be. So black comes from black sesame seeds, and brown is from real coffee," explains Young.
Pocket's Chocolates strives to cater to Asian Americans by offering nostalgic flavors and approachable products while simultaneously challenging negative stigmas surrounding Asian foods. The brand places great emphasis on quality and affordability, ensuring accessibility without compromising on ingredients. Young actively supports other AAPI founders and envisions a future where stereotypes are debunked and Asian flavors are more widely embraced. Together, these founders honor the nostalgic foods of their origins while creating a new sense of nostalgia for future generations.
Discover below products from brands proudly representing their AAPI heritage and supporting inclusivity.
1. Pocket's Chocolates
Choco Nuts - Lychee
Pocket Latte recently rebranded to Pocket's Chocolates and has released a new oat milk chocolate-covered almond flavor—lychee. While the latest product is exclusive to Miniso, the largest Asian lifestyle chain in the world with close to 6000 stores, CEO Chris Young let New Hope know to stay tuned for new products, including brand collaborations!
2. Nguyen Coffee Supply
Condensed Milk Cold Brew Coffee
This ready-to-drink beverage is an homage to Vietnam's iconic cà phê sữa đá, a sweetened iced coffee made with condensed milk. Nguyen Coffee Supply's mission is to elevate robusta coffee—a variety grown in Vietnam. Vietnam has long been relegated to the cheap coffee market, rendering the country invisible in the specialty coffee industry. By investing in robusta coffee (which can be grown with fewer pesticides than its more famous cousin, the arabica bean), Nguyen is elevating the communities that rely on robusta coffee for a livelihood.
3. Tea Drops
Matcha Bubble Tea Kit
Tea Drops' founder Sashee has a deep relationship with tea. Her mother is Chinese, and her father is Sri Lankan and was born on a tea estate. So looking for a solution that was not bland tea bags filled with microplastics but still quicker than brewing traditional loose-leaf tea, Sashee created Tea Drops—organic, whole-leaf, and bagless teas pressed into a cute shape. This matcha kit makes having a delicious and authentic matcha latte with boba easier than ever. Pour hot water over the compressed cube-shaped tea drop, stir in the instant boba and add milk.
Strawberry Matcha Latte
An RTD oat milk latte line with Asian-inspired flavors, launching in the next few weeks, is made by proud Filipinos. Narra (short for narrative, and is also the national tree of the Philippines) honors the joyous Filipino tradition of merienda—a midday break to sip, snack and recharge. The refreshing plant-based tea lattes offer a perfect balance of caffeine and L-theanine for a jitter-free recharge with no added sugar.
5. Hot Pot Queen
Wild Mushrooms Chunky Chili Sauce
This premium condiment takes inspiration from the bold and spicy flavors of Chongqing, the hometown of its founder, Jia. Crafted with handpicked wild mushrooms and a perfect balance of savory flavors and málà spice, this sauce adds depth and complexity to any dish.
6. Tochi Snacks
Salted Egg Popcorn
Tochi’s new line of elevated popcorn takes it inspiration from classic Asian flavors including Black Sesame, Ube and Black Milk Tea. This innovative Salted Egg variety offers an umami-full blend of buttery, sweet, creamy notes with a hint of salt that is made from non-GMO corn, real salted egg, premium coconut oil and organic sugar. As first-generation Asian Americans, the brands’ trio of founders share a passion for creating delicious, Asian-inspired snacks using simple and healthy ingredients that promote overall well-being.
7. MìLà (formerly Xiao Chi Jie)
The Classic Pork Xiao Long Bao by Eatmila is a popular and delicious Chinese dish, soup dumplings. MìLà focuses on using premium ingredients and ensuring an authentic culinary experience from two second-generation Chinese Americans. The brand initially started in a Bellvue, WA restaurant and quickly went viral on TikTok, proving that authentic dumplings are a strongly desired staple in the freezer aisle.
Ube Milk Tea
For its newest flavor, Twrl blends vibrant purple yam and smooth milk tea from premium ingredients to create a unique and refreshing beverage. The RTD plant-based beverage offers a delightful twist on the traditional milk tea experience, and the ube provides a lovely earthy sweetness.
9. Yai's Thai
Pad Thai Sauce
Yai's Thai is committed to letting Thai flavors shine without adding any junk, creating easy-to-use products consumers can enjoy regardless of dietary restrictions or cooking experience. Authentic Pad Thai is only the twist of a cap and a few easy cooking steps away with this convenient sauce.
Mango Mochi Gummies
Issei Mochi Gummies founder Mika Shino decided to create these chewy, healthier sweet snacks for her kids using her Japanese heritage as the blueprint for turning perishable mochi into a shelf-stable product. She also converted the candy into a clean-label product, using rice and tapioca flours, ensuring they are vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and nut free. The newest flavor consists of naturally sweet mango with a hint of lime. The brand's name, Issei, means first-generation, referring to Japanese people who immigrate to the United States. Shino hopes to innovate traditional Japanese foods to inspire the next generation.
Quotes may be edited for length or clarity.
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