Andrea Xu always had trouble getting the ingredients she needed to make her favorite dishes. Sometimes, one basic recipe would send her to multiple stores to check out the so-called “ethnic food” aisles. Occasionally, she’d have to settle for something that was close enough.
“I am a third-culture kid — I was born in Spain to Chinese parents, and I’ve lived in the U.S. for most of my adult life,” Xu told In The Know. “Like a lot of individuals with multicultural backgrounds, my story jumps around different geographies and I’ve always used food and cooking as a way to connect with my roots.”
For Xu, grocery stores weren’t cutting it — and she knew she wasn’t alone.
That’s why the 28-year-old founded Umamicart, an online Asian grocer that offers a curated array of pantry staples and new, distinctly Asian American products.
“I envisioned a one-stop-shop where folks could easily stock up on high quality and fairly priced products and ingredients, and have them delivered right to their doorstep,” she said. “I built Umamicart with the intention of prioritizing immigrant-led businesses, Asian-led businesses and mom-and-pop suppliers.”
Umamicart’s focus is to serve customers who, more often than not, haven’t been a focus for major retailers. Plus, as the daughter of immigrant entrepreneurs, Xu had firsthand knowledge of how much work goes into building and running a small, immigrant-led business.
That’s why she prioritizes heritage brands and products like Lee Kum Kee’s oyster sauce, Lao Gan Ma’s chili oil and Ito En’s teas. Plus, Umamicart’s sourcing team looks out for newer brands by Asian Americans, like Mother in Law’s Kimchi and Fly by Jing.
“We spent a lot of time interviewing potential customers and suppliers to understand their pain points,” Xu said. “For a lot of the suppliers we work with, the pandemic was a really trying time, as not only were they being disproportionately impacted, but their offline distribution channels were shut down overnight. Working with Umamicart, they are able to reach a different audience and diversify their existing channels.”
Customers had a similar pain point. It seemed many were finding other online grocery experiences to be a hassle.
“We prioritized details such as thorough product descriptions and eye-catching photography,” Xu said. “So that customers could easily browse and select items to add to their carts.”
As someone who legally can’t describe themselves as a home cook, my favorite part of the website was its recipe bundles and kits.
“We cater to home chefs and foodies by providing context and content,” Xu said. “Our offering is not just about putting a catalog online, but to make the prepping and cooking easier — because for this consumer, cooking these dishes is often something very meaningful to them.”
Of course, I had to ask Xu, a self-described foodie, what she stocks up on in her own Umamicart orders.
“I always find myself gravitating towards easy-to-make yet delicious and good-for-you foods,” she said. “One of my current obsessions is Otafuku’s okonomiyaki — while it’s pre-made, it feels like such a special snack with minimal effort.”
“One of my ‘secrets’ is keeping some of our sashimi-grade in the freezer,” she added. “It’s perfect for when I want something special but don’t feel like going out for dinner. We source our fish from a purveyor that supplies fish to some of the best sushi restaurants in New York City. It’s incredibly high-quality!”
This is only the — very impressive — beginning for Umamicart. As Xu has made very clear, the priority is and will always be what the customer wants, which is why her plan is to increase the food catalog and add hundreds of more Southeast Asian, East Asian and hopefully South Asian products to the site.
“We’re dedicated to using our growing platform to share resources and educate our community about what the AAPI community is facing right now,” Xu said. “We’re a proudly Asian-founded and Asian-led brand and we’ll never shy away from boldly stating that.”
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