“A lot of Asian grocery stores are intimidating to non-Asian Americans,” because many of the products are unfamiliar or not labeled in English and they don’t know what to buy or how to prepare the ingredients, said Ken Huynh, co-founder of Brooklyn, NY, startup The Saucey Sauce Co.
In addition, he notes, many home cooks today do not have the time to hunt down new ingredients and follow laborious preparation required for many Asian dishes. As a result, most Americans rely on restaurants and take-out joints to get their fix.
For support, Huynh pointed to Euromonitor data that shows global sales of Asian fast food restaurants nearly sextupled between 1999 and 2015. With growth of 482% in the period, Asian food far outpaced that of Middle Eastern food, which increased about 150% in the period and Latin food which grew just under 100% in the same time, according to media reports citing Euromonitor data.
Huynh also noted that in 2015 the Specialty Food Association listed consumer interest in Asian food beyond Chinese, Thai and Japanese to include Vietnamese as a top trend to watch. Global research firm Technavio earlier this year confirmed interest in Indian and Asian cuisines is continuing in 2016 and will be a major driver of the spice and seasoning market.
Filling an unmet need
Struck by the discrepancy between consumer interest in Asian cuisine and their access to the ingredients and cooking technique, Huynh and his sister were inspired in 2012 to launch a line of Vietnamese sauces based on their mother’s recipes that would help bridge this gap and make cooking Asian dishes at home “very, very easy,” he said.
“Our mission is to share the flavors of Vietnamese cuisine with Americans,” and to make it easier for them to enjoy new “impactful flavors” at home in dishes they already know how to make as well as in new recipes, he said.
The line of low-calorie, oil-free, gluten-free and fat-free sauces include Spicy Garlic, Sweet Ginger, Fresh Lemon and Brown Sugar Glaze – all of which can be used as marinades, dressings or dipping sauces. The company also has two ketchups: Sweet Jalapeno and Hot Habanero, which Huynh says are sweet, savory, spicy and addictive.
Huynh recognizes that consumers have a lot of choices when it comes to condiments, but, he says, Saucey Sauces are the first ready-to-serve Vietnamese sauces and go far beyond the fish sauce most Americans associate with the cuisine.
“There are tons of fish sauces, but that is like salt and pepper for Vietnamese cuisine,” whereas these sauces come with other herbs, spices and flavors that alleviate home cooks from having to research and blend ingredients to make a well-balanced dish, he said. In some cases, all consumers need to do is twist open a bottle, marinate a protein, cook it and serve it with rice and vegetables.
Saucey Sauces also may be easier for mainstream Americans to use than some of the more traditional brands used in Vietnam because they are marketed in the specialty and gourmet grocery stores with which they are more familiar alongside items in the international aisle, or occasionally in the larger general condiment aisle.
Consumer outreach, education key
Even though the sauces are easy to use, Huynh said he and his sister understand consumers still need a lot of education on what their options are and how to pair the sauces with other common ingredients to make full meals. That is why they regularly post new recipes on their blog and work closely with retailers to demo the sauces in stores and show consumers how to use them.
In one or two years, when Americans feel comfortable with the sauces and making Vietnamese food at home, Huynh says he hopes to introduce additional packaged foods that showcase the flavors he grew up eating, including spicy garlic nuts and sweet ginger cashews.
To further help the young company grow, it has teamed up with Food-X, an accelerator that works closely with startups to help them see the whole picture and realize their full potential, Huynh said.
“Food-X has been a tremendous experience so far,” and in many ways it has “acted like a light that has illuminated areas we need to think about,” he said, adding that the advisers and other members are great resources for filling in holes and growing.