Our newest blog series shares the stories of minority-owned natural brands

The 2022-2023 M/O Fellowship is in full swing. And we can already tell that this group of minority founders are going to make a major impact on the natural and organic CPG industry. This year, we have 16 brands participating in this 12-week program. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing their stories with you.

New to M/O Fellowship? It’s a program dedicated to supporting and advocating for racially and ethnically underrepresented, early-stage natural and organic CPG founders. NielsenIQ and Naturally Network partnered together to scale the Fellowship as a national program to grow our impact and the number of founders that we can serve nationwide. There are some incredible brands out there, but recent NielsenIQ data reports that only 25% of consumers shop minority-owned brands. In addition, NielsenIQ found that most venture-backed founders are non-minority as the barrier to entry for diverse founders is far too high. The M/O Fellowship aims to change that.

We know that once more people hear about these amazing founders and their natural products, there will be an increase in purchases of minority-owned brands. So, without further ado, let’s introduce some of our M/O Fellows.

We kick off this series with three brands that are bringing their heritage to their local communities and stores nationwide: Chiki Chiki Boom Boom, Rooted Fare and Xinca Foods.

Chiki Chiki Boom Boom

Andres Izquieta and Juan Jaramillo, Co-Founders

Chiki Chiki Boom Boom was created to “celebrate our culture and deliver positive vibras towards our planet, people and health.” They are on a mission to help people live better, starting with their life-giving beverage they refer to as “Reggaeton in a Bottle.” Chiki Chiki Boom Boom’s unique product offering is bringing fresh tastes and benefits to the flavored water category, which has seen 9% annual growth1.

Andres and Juan are the first to bottle the original elixir that comes from Vilcabamba, Ecuador – aka “The Valley of Longevity.” The people who live in this valley live incredibly long lives, which they attribute to the environment and this “magical drink” that has been sipped for hundreds of years. As legend has it, for every day a person drinks this elixir, they will live one day longer. Andres and Juan kept 90% of the ancestral recipe intact and infused Latin-inspired ingredients for taste and health-promotion benefits in their product line.

Rooted Fare

Hedy Yu and Ashley Xie, Co-Founders

As childhood friends and daughters of Chinese immigrants, Hedy and Ashley found themselves straddling two cultures. As they grew older, they struggled to find access to the traditional Chinese foods they grew up with. This inspired them to disrupt the $2.5 billion nut butter category1 with the authentic Chinese flavors of their childhood in more accessible forms.

Rooted Fare speaks to roots of heritage and the food they make. Hedy says, “We make fun, modern Chinese American pantry staples that are nostalgic yet novel.” Their Black Sesame Crunchy Butter is a unique, Chinese American twist on crunchy peanut butter. Made with only 5 simple ingredients, this slightly sweet, ultra-nutty and addictingly crunchy spread pairs well with toast, fruits, oatmeal and more.

Xinca Foods  

Cynthia Duran, Founder

Founder Cynthia Duran believes that the best way to learn about others’ culture is through food. She says, “Food has a way of bringing people together and educating humans about the beauty of other cultures.” 

Though born and raised in South Central LA, Cynthia learned about her heritage through traditional Salvadorian foods. Xinca Foods is the first brand to serve authentic Salvadorian dishes in a convenient frozen food line. The brand name, Xinca, is inspired by a small group of indigenous people in El Salvador and Guatemala. Latching onto this niche gives Xinca Foods the opportunity to expand the untapped pupusas market, which rang in at just $220,000 in sales in the last year1.

We must know – What inspired you to start your brand?

Andres, Chiki Chiki Boom Boom: My co-founder and I bonded over our shared Ecuadorian culture. He was born and raised in southern Ecuador and learned firsthand of the benefits of the traditional beverage. We sought out to find the “buried treasure” that was enjoyed by Ecuadorians and share it, along with other functional ingredients, with people everywhere.

Hedy, Rooted Fare: Rooted Fare is a love letter to our Chinese American heritage! The Chinese and American parts of ourselves felt very separated growing up, and we wanted to beautifully fuse the two to create something delicious and unique that helps us remember our roots every day.

Cynthia, Xinca Foods: When I was living in NYC, it was always very hard for me to find Salvadorian food. For me, Salvadorian food is my comfort food, since that is what I grew up eating. When I would fly back home to LA to visit my mom, she would always make me pupusas and tamales to take back with me to NYC. She would say, “Freeze them, so they last longer.”

For a few years, I had this idea of Xinca floating around in my head. As I explained to my family what I wanted to do, they told me to follow my dream. The support from my family and significant other is what gave me that push I needed to leave my career and start Xinca Foods.

Tell us about your journey. What are some of the highs and lows?

Andres, Chiki Chiki Boom Boom: By far, our top moment has been winning the Don Julio award. But we’ve learned so much in the last two years. We originally launched during the pandemic, which was a very challenging in general. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least.

When we first launched, we couldn’t do demos and interact with customers. But this year, we got our product in people’s hands. This official relaunch – Chiki 2.0 – has allowed us to get great feedback. When launching a beverage brand, you need to get critical feedback from people. Customers need to experience it. This helps you accelerate your branding communication, your audience, etc. – all of those insights that are so important. This feedback has allowed us to create a specific product for our intended audience. It may be more selective, but it’s the right target.

Hedy, Rooted Fare: Many high points were our firsts: getting our first PR write-up and struggling to keep up with orders, getting into our first specialty store, going to our first conference, and moving in together to work on Rooted Fare!

So much of the journey has been positive, even with the challenges! But I remember two low points clearly. Last holiday season, Ashley had to keep up with all of the production and packing when I had to temporarily move back to the Bay unexpectedly. Another was making the hard (but correct) decision to narrow our product line to just one SKU to focus on getting the fundamentals right. All in all, we’ve learned so much.

Cynthia, Xinca Foods: I honestly did not think that I would leave my career to start a frozen food business. I had no idea what I was doing, I made and continue to make many mistakes. Frozen food has been a learning curve for me. But recently when I was in Vegas, I was at dinner with a few of my fellow cohorts. I don’t remember how we got into this subject, but she and I started to exchange photos of our first packaging. It was a very funny moment, because what we started with at the time, we thought it was so cool, but it was nowhere close to being retail ready. I thought it was cool to see our before and after pics. Since you can really see our growth through the evolution of our packaging. Those are the moments when you realize that you have come a long way and all those doubts you have in the back of your head start to minimize.

We’d love to hear about your experience with the M/O Fellowship. How is it going so far?

Andres, Chiki Chiki Boom Boom: I’ve done accelerators in the past but this one sticks out a lot because it’s very specific. I’ve gotten to see a brand’s journey from the beginning and getting it to 500 stores, which is the most challenging period of all. I think of it like this: if you haven’t gone from grades first through eighth, you can’t go right into high school. This first through eighth period is so critical. The brand journey from concept to alpha, beta, etc. – that is such a critical time that you need to have a complete understanding of your brand.

Hedy, Rooted Fare: We’ve loved our experience.

The people we’ve met through the M/O Fellowship – Katrina, our fellows, and speakers – have shared both personal and business stories that gave us new perspectives and confidence to work towards our biggest goals. For example, we’ve been contemplating when and how to fundraise and during a Friday Brew Crew sesh, Ayesha Abuelhiga encouraged us to keep everything in-house as long as possible and raise as late as possible to ensure we have full control over the things that matter. That completely quelled some of our anxiety about raising. 

They’ve also given us countless opportunities, like passes to Supply Side West, where we found multiple leads to source our most common ingredient. 

And to put the cherry on top of it all, we also feel the camaraderie of community. Ashley came home from Supply Side West gushing about her experiences getting to know all the fellows in person. It’s not just us talking about business. We get to know the people behind the brands. 

We feel seen and supported as entrepreneurs and as regular people and are so thankful to be part of this amazing group!

Cynthia, Xinca Foods: The fellowship has been a great way for me to learn and meet other founders. I’ve also had a lot of fun meeting my fellow cohorts and learning about them through their brands. I just think it’s really cool to see how creative they are all – I didn’t know [what they’ve done] was possible.

Now, the most important question of all: Where can we find your products?

Andres, Chiki Chiki Boom Boom: The best way to find us right now is on our website. You can also find us on the shelves of Fresh Thyme, Foxtrot Market, MOM’s Organic Market, and many more. We’re excited to announce that we’ll be launching in Walmart and Publix in January.

Hedy, Rooted Fare: On our website, at select specialty stores and on Instagram @rooted.fare. 

Xinca Foods:  You can find us at any Town and Country Markets in the Seattle Metro area and soon at all Metropolitan markets also in Seattle Metro area. You can also order online.

We are so impressed by these founders and their journeys. If you want to continue to be inspired by their stories, follow along with our series in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, we hope you can attend our webinar on Tuesday, December 6th. In this webinar, you’ll hear from another emerging minority-owned brand that embraces the founder’s rich heritage. Click here to reserve your spot now.

1United States: Based on xAOC + Convenience data for the 52 weeks ending 11/19/22.

Naturally’s mission to elevate founders in the natural and organic food ecosystem goes hand in hand with our mission to help emerging brands compete at scale in retail.  

NielsenIQ is equally proud to support Naturally’s Minority-Owned (MO) fellowship by providing access to industry-leading category data and office hours with data experts. The MO Fellowship’s goal is to build a more accessible and equitable CPG industry at a time when 77% of founders are white, regardless of gender or education.  

This program trains underrepresented founders in financial literacy, product development, sales, and overall business sustainability. Fellows attend weekly fireside chats to network with industry leaders and established founders. 

Diversity and Inclusion are foundational to our culture at NielsenIQ. Our diverse values are present in everything we do, from product launches to data research and corporate principles to management practices. We strive for an inclusive culture where diversity of backgrounds, thoughts, and opinions is valued, encouraged, and promoted so that our associates can be themselves and feel empowered to contribute to NielsenIQ culture.  

Through NielsenIQ’s partnership with Naturally, natural and organic brand members get access to NielsenIQ’s Byzzer to run three free reports to help power their retail success.

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