Note: Umamicart isn’t available in Australia right now. But hey, it’s still a cool thing to read about.
Andrea Xu knows firsthand the struggle to find ingredients that feel like home. She refers to herself as a third-culture kid: her Chinese parents immigrated to Spain, where she grew up as often the only person of Asian descent in the room, before she travelled to the United States for college and now calls New York home. Back in Spain, Xu’s parents ran a Chinese restaurant and had to rely upon the small community of other Chinese immigrants in the country to find the produce, sauces, and ingredients they needed to cook Chinese dishes. This experience has resonated with Xu, even years after she left Spain.
Although Xu’s background is in finance, she’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to honour the sacrifices her parents made-despite her parents telling her to stay out of the food industry after experiencing first-hand the backbreaking work it calls for. “I just kept going back to my area of interest-which has always been small, immigrant-led businesses that I’m just used to being around because that’s the community I grew up with in Spain,” she says. Her desire to highlight immigrant-led businesses, paired with her observation that there wasn’t really a reliable online platform that did such a thing, sparked an idea in Xu.
“I had always been really interested in the supply chain for Asian groceries in the U.S. I had read an article while I was in college about why Asian groceries from Chinatown are actually really fresh-even though sometimes people claim them to be cheap and put scepticism around it,” she explains. “I have found it really fascinating that it is because all these Asian vegetables come from a parallel supply chain that is small farms. They come directly to you on the same day and there’s less waste.”
Xu’s idea, however, was not limited to produce. “When I came to the U.S., it was awesome to have so many like-minded individuals who grew up with these flavours and champion and celebrate [them],” Xue says. “There are also so many non-Asian people who love these ingredients in a genuine way and take the time to understand where they come from.” Xue decided to make these ingredients-whether it be leafy bok choy, creamy instant yakisoba, or hand-crafted kimchi-more accessible by building a functional yet beautiful online platform.
Umamicart’s website, a flourish of neon green and pastel purple with an intuitive shopping experience, didn’t magically appear. Although the idea was sowed and Xu made it her mission to highlight immigrant-owned distributors and businesses, she needed capital. She approached FJ Labs, a New York-based venture capital firm. “People in my VC firm were not Asian and did not have this problem themselves,” she began. But once they saw Xu’s passion-and the research she conducted to show the necessity of building an online Asian grocery platform-she was met with support.
Building a business in the middle of the pandemic, no matter how suitable a grocery delivery platform may seem, is still fraught with challenges. “We really wanted to be picky about the suppliers that we worked with, but at the same time we were in the height of the pandemic and couldn’t really go and meet them in person.” Instead, Xu and Umamicart’s head of business operations, Wendy Wang, conducted a ton of research and spent hours forging relationships with suppliers. “[I] want to give [suppliers] a window to sell directly to the consumer through us and know that we’re going to build this in a way where we’re not in any way taking advantage of them. We definitely want to build it in a way that makes sense for them too,” Xu says.
Although the beginning of Umamicart started from a personal pain point-a lack of access to familiar and comforting products-Xu is excited by the ability to bring suppliers online and champion Asian small businesses. As of now, Umamicart serves the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, with distant future plans for nationwide expansion. Xu wants to focus on broadening the catalogue that Umamicart has to include more Southeast Asian and South Asian ingredients.
“I feel like a lot of the issues that I’ve [seen] were things my parents had to go through,” Xu says of working with suppliers and crafting Umamicart. “I really want to build better.”
Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.