From Virginia to Venezuela, few foods are loved more universally than a well-seasoned pot of soulfully seasoned rice and beans. To keep that love alive, A Dozen Cousins simmers all its recipes using real, wholesome ingredients and seasons them according to traditional recipes, real dishes from the community.
In recognition of the brand's integrity and innovation, A Dozen Cousins received the 2019 NEXTY Award for Best New Pantry Food. We caught up with founder Ibraheem Basir, who highlighted his continued dedication to social impact, inspiring families of all backgrounds to eat better food and live longer, more vibrant lives.
A lot has changed in the world since winning your NEXTY Award in 2019. What keeps you motivated?
Ibraheem Basir: First and foremost, I am still very motivated by our initial mission and vision: to create a brand that feels culturally authentic while introducing a different group of consumers (and flavors) to the natural product industry. I've been working in this space for close to 10 years. At the time, there wasn't a lot of diversity in the natural product space.
We are much further than when we started but I want to see more foods that represent a diversity of cuisines, foods and heritage. Diversity of business ownership and leadership live hand in hand. I want to see foods that are reflective of the country we live in. We are not all the way there yet.
The NEXTY awards were founded on celebrating the most innovative, inspirational and integrity-driven products in the natural products industry. What continues to set you apart?
IB: We have continued innovating in our categories, rooted on the same principles of combining taste, health and recipes steeped in culture. We aren't having to make a trade off. Our bone-broth rice is especially innovative in its category. We are eager to introduce our new line of multicultural seasoning sauces, including such flavors as Mexican Pollo Asado, Jamaican Jerk and Peruvian Pollo a la Brasa.
Every year, we have launched a new product line. That is the cool thing about our product, the flavors are known culturally and traditionally. For example, the recipe for Cuban Black Beans is over 100 years old. It has made product development easy, with flavor profiles known in a variety of historical dishes. Our true innovation lies in the sourcing of nutrient-dense ingredients.
Your products are inspired by traditional Creole/Caribbean/Latin American flavors. What has been the most effective way to tell those stories?
It starts with who is telling the stories. Our team is 80% Black/LatinX, with 100% of our staff coming from a minority or multi-ethnic heritage. Around our team, we have people that are from the places that represent our unique foods and cuisine. That is an important starting point. These places are not monolithic.
We present foods in a three-dimensional way, from art and music to culture and travel. We think about these foods as living within a really rich content. We talk about the history of ingredients, presenting food in detail in a really textured way to tell a story about our products.
As a BIPOC-owned company, tell us how other leaders can follow your success?
IB: Last year, I helped found a professional community called Project Potluck to help POC build successful companies and careers in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space—from mentorship of talent, to hosting regular events, to meeting with retailers and investors. It's a fantastic way for diverse founders to get a foot in the door.
For entrepreneurs of color, I encourage you to think big and have a really clear vision about what you want to build, because the industry is challenging to break down. Make sure you have a project that is really solving a clear need for consumers.
How have you continued to keep your mission alive and where are you headed next?
IB: We started with three SKUS in one category and are now launching with 15 items and three different subcategories. We have awarded a grant every year since we launched in 2019, with the goal to reach as many customers as possible through our products, regardless of economic status. We want to have a positive impact on our communities through wholesome ingredients.
If you are Black or brown, you are much more likely to suffer a food-related illness. Our grants help combat these socioeconomic health disparities, partnering with a variety of organizations to combat this epidemic, such as LA Community Fridges. The community feeds one another, putting food into the fridge that consumers can take. The refrigerators are stocked with really clean, natural, high-quality ingredients.
How are you helping to reverse the trend of diet-related illnesses present in many under-served communities?
IB: Over my career, I had the opportunity to work on really great natural brands—but no brand represented the foods and flavors growing up that I had eaten. It felt like two different worlds at times: One that was full of processed ingredients or one that lacked diverse recipes and flavors. I wanted to create healthy recipes that families of all backgrounds would actually crave. We intellectually know what foods are healthy, but so much more goes into healthy eating.
There is a certain amount of craveability. We want our food to look good and taste good. We eat with their eyes. Food is a very visceral, emotional process— there is so much nostalgia and memory tied to it.
What inspiration can you share with other natural product brands seeking to make responsible change?
IB: Choose a cause in an area you have a genuine passion for. In this industry, there are a lot of trends for economic gain. There is nothing wrong with seeking to make profit, but the passion must be there. I stay energized because history, food and representation are key themes I would be thinking about if it wasn't doing this for a career.
My advice? Pick something that you can dedicate a decade of your life to or more.
Editor's note: A Dozen Cousins is a finalist for a NEXTY Award in the Best New People-Forward Product category. Log on to our Natural Products Expo Virtual platform at 11 a.m. EST Wednesday, March 2, to learn which products won this year's NEXTY Awards.