The rise of Asian groceries online
When Larry Liu moved from Shanghai to Sacramento, Calif., In 2003 for his job at Intel, he found that the nearest Chinese supermarket was almost a two-hour drive away. With the “ethnic” aisles of traditional brick-and-mortar supermarkets leaving much to be desired, Liu resorted to networking with like-minded neighbors through the WeChat messaging app to find some of the foods that reminded him of his home.
In 2015, he launched Weee !, a group-buying platform for popular foods like pork belly or freshly caught Pacific black cod from local suppliers. But that still didn’t completely solve the convenience issue, as customers had to stop at a neighbor’s garage to pick up their goods. “You would have to drive another half hour to 99 Ranch or H Mart to buy scallions and bok choy, and Costco for milk and eggs,” said Liu, who rotated Weee! to be a one-stop online store for authentic Chinese products and supermarket commodities in 2017.
The Fremont, Calif.-Based company has since expanded to include more than 4,000 Asian and Hispanic products, ranging from Taiwanese cabbage and Korean-style pork belly to taro boba slats and apple chips. of Lay’s Cucumber Earth. The largest operator of the Asian online grocery space, Weee! has raised over $ 400 million since its inception. In March, Bloomberg valued the company at $ 2.8 billion.
Pee ! and a host of other Asian online grocery retailers, including Umamicart, Quicklly, Sarap Now, and Kim’C Market, have entered the market in recent years, providing a historically underserved community of 22 million people with access and unmatched convenience to the products they love. Experts say large-scale home delivery demand fueled by the pandemic, the growing popularity of Asian foods in the United States, and traditional grocery chains have failed to respond to the diversification of the American population have helped entrepreneurs to be successful by serving their communities right at their doorstep.
New York-based Umamicart, known for its demanding product selection and hype of Asian-American-owned brands, debuted in March and recently raised $ 6 million in a fundraiser. starting. The online grocery store was named one of the fastest growing direct-to-consumer brands by Business Insider and has seen 313% quarter-over-quarter growth in web traffic since its launch.
Umamicart co-founder and CEO Andrea Xu said the company is using the capital to expand its team and catalog, and hopes to eventually go national. The online Asian grocery store currently offers same-day delivery to New York and select northeastern states of items such as Fly by Jing’s Szechuan Chili Crisp, Nguyen Coffee Supply’s Ground Coffee, and Kits Holiday Roast Duck.
Part of Xu’s vision was to have a decidedly American brand of Asian origin, which did not employ Asian characters or exotic stereotypes. “We can build something that celebrates these products and flavors, but we don’t have to conform to a certain concept of alien,” said Xu, a “third culture child” who was born and raised. was raised in Spain by Chinese parents and moved to New York over 10 years ago.
While Xu enjoys serving Asian American shoppers like herself, she said non-Asian consumers make up a “big chunk” of their customer base thanks in part to a desire for authenticity and the integration of Asian food. in the US “I think we’ll continue to see this trend because Asian food is part of American cuisine at this point,” Xu said. “Nobody thinks sushi is anything exotic.”
Chicago-based Quicklly, an online marketplace in South Asia and India providing access to over 10,000 grocery ingredients, tiffins, meal kits and fully prepared Indian meals for delivery, has grown by 1,500% since the start of the pandemic, according to co-founder Keval Raj.
Traditional Asian brick-and-mortar chains like H Mart have also seen an increase in their online business during the Covid era. “Every month has a new record,” said Young Park, e-commerce manager for H Mart, which currently offers more than 4,000 products for shipping and delivery. Park said they expected the trend to continue after the pandemic. “We have invested in e-commerce as [robotics specialist] AutoStore for fast handling and delivery to fulfill customers’ online orders.
Online grocery sales increased 54% in 2020, to $ 95.82 billion. By 2026, the Internet’s share is expected to represent 20% of the market. Experts believe that “ethnic” grocery shopping is not just a trend, but the new normal. And while many Asian American shoppers prefer to pick their favorite melon or cut of meat in person, millions of shoppers simply don’t have access to Asian supermarkets or neighborhood stores because they live in parts of the world. countries that cannot support them.
Asian American entrepreneurs like Liu do not see their online stores as a withdrawal from the business of small, neighborhood stores, but rather from traditional big chains whose “ethnic” aisles are seen as archaic and unable to meet the needs of the consumer. fastest growing racial group in the United States
By putting these needs at the center of their business model, Weee! currently serves hundreds of thousands of customers, offering local delivery of fresh produce, meat and seafood to more than 20 metro markets. Over 2,500 shelf-stable products are available for national shipment. The online grocer has fulfilled more than 10 million orders and plans to expand its number of categories and ethnic foods and will serve the Canadian market in the future.
Liu, CEO of the company, said customers are grateful when they realize they can order their favorite China White Rabbit Creamy Candy or Maharlika Food’s Filipino-style flat fish balls that connect them to their culture from the online grocer.
“Food is more than just a chore or a source of energy – it should be exciting, it should be shared with friends and family, and it is closely linked to our identity and cultural background,” Liu said. “I believe what we have in mind will be the future of food.”