A new online retail store focusing on Asian grocery items has launched this month with an eclectic assortment and a promotional tie-in to several of its women-owned vendors.
Umamicart, based in New York, was itself co-founded by a woman of Asian ancestry, Andrea Xu, who was born and raised in in Spain by her Chinese parents but moved to New York several years ago. The site launched with delivery to select areas in the Mid-Atlantic, with free delivery for orders over $49.
Unlike other Asian grocery e-commerce companies, Umamicart is seeking to offer items from a wide range of Asian cuisines and is targeting a broad audience of consumers, Xu told SFA News Daily.
“While many alternatives on the market focus mainly on one cuisine or demographic, Umamicart was designed to fill a gap in the market for consumers that shop more than one Asian cuisine at a time, value context and information about both the ingredients and the suppliers, and value a thoughtful digital shopping experience as well as customer service experience,” she said.
The company prioritizes organic, local and small-batch products, whenever possible, Xu said. Its assortment includes a mix of both classic Asian brands and products from new start-up producers.
“Our team uncovered that a combination of the above was not something that existed in the market,” said Xu.
She said her experiences seeking to recreate dishes from her childhood left her frustrated with the Asian grocery selection available in grocery stores, and she found herself making multiple trips to different stores to obtain ingredients. That led her to look into the possibility of launching an e-commerce company to serve people who may be having similar experiences.
Xu partnered with Will Nichols, a former Instacart manager overseeing that company’s New York region, to launch the company. As co-founder and chief operating officer, Nichols is overseeing the company’s efforts to scale up to reach more customers in new markets.
Umamicart launched with a selection of about 500 products across fresh and shelf-stable categories. In addition to Asian and Asian-American pantry items, Umamicart also offers fresh meat specifically targeted to Asian dishes, such as short ribs, and produce such as organic bok choy, pea shoots, Thai chilis, wood ear mushrooms, Taishan cauliflower, and Thai eggplant. Plans call for adding “hundreds more” new products in the near future, Xu said.
“Our catalog will continue to grow and evolve, just as Asian-American food culture does,” she said.
One of the key ways Umamicart is seeking to provide value to customers is through its high level of product curation. All products, whether sourced from distributors or directly from farmers or other independent producers, are carefully vetted by Umamicart’s sourcing team, Xu explained.
“We carefully curate a selection of high-quality and fairly priced items that represent the diversity of Asian-American cuisine, which is not solely Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, etc., but rather an eclectic mix of all of the above and more,” she said.
The goal is both to provide a one-stop shop for customers and to provide an online vehicle for independent makers and producers.
Umamicart also seeks to address some of the pain points around e-commerce, she said. For example, it seeks to elevate the “un-boxing” experience for customers by incorporating what Xu described as “thoughtful touches” into the packaging of each order. Packaging also features environmentally friendly insulation materials, she said. Orders are packed in corrugated boxes in the company’s distribution center, with next-day service for orders placed before noon.
The company is offering 20 percent discounts, using a special code, on products from several female-founded vendors during March as part of a Women’s History Month promotion. These companies include:
• Gr8nola — pronounced “great-nola” — which was founded by Erica Liu Williams, a former collegiate and Olympic Trials swimmer. The superfood-filled granola, made without any refined sugars or other highly processed ingredients, is available in six flavors, with distribution online and in specialty grocery stores is several markets around the country.
• Mother In Law’s, founded by Lauryn Chun, who named the company after her family’s restaurant in California. The company makes small-batch kimchi and other Korean products and is currently available in Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, Wegmans, HEB, and other retail outlets.
• Fly By Jing, founded by Jing Gao and known for its spicy sauces known as “chili crisps.” The sauces reflect the flavors and cooking traditions of China’s Chengdu province, where she was born. The company also offers spice mixes and other products via its website.
• The eponymous Nona Lim, which Lim founded in 2014. The brand, which is offered in supermarkets and specialty food stores across the U.S., includes shelf-stable noodle bowls, broth pouches and other items inspired by Lim’s childhood in Singapore.
“When we launched in 2018, the landscape of natural and specialty foods in the U.S. was very different—there were few, if any, brands that were celebrating the incredible diversity in the way we eat today,” a Fly By Jing spokeswoman told SFA News. “It’s been exciting to see the landscape of specialty foods has changed so much in such a short period of time, and Umamicart is a wonderful example of that. It’s amazing to see a grocer focused entirely on Asian-owned brands, and we hope that the trend continues.”