New brand Yumami brings Japanese flavors to emerging chilled snacking segment

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Yumami launches nori rice chips and bean dips in Northeast Whole Foods
As a protein-rich, gluten-free, plant-based snack food, Yumami is entering a saturated market. But there’s one gaping market void its founders are looking to fill.

“Consumers nowadays are so used to nutritional callouts that it’s a requirement,” ​Karsten Ch’ien, co-founder of Yumami​, told FoodNavigator-USA. “We’re asking ‘what else is there?’ so we try to bring them a really dynamic flavor to get them excited.”

For the brand’s initial batch of products launched—which happened last week at Whole Foods’ northeastern stores—the team looked at Japanese flavors for inspiration. “Consumers in the US look to Japan as a source of healthy ingredients, healthy eating,” ​Ch’ien said.

What’s more, analysts have taken note that US consumers are getting more savvy when it comes to Japan’s culinary contributions beyond sushi.

“We saw this growing interest in Asian flavors, I always think that product innovation comes from what’s going on in kitchens in New York,” ​Ch’ien said. Ranging from matcha​ to onigiri​ to okonomi sauce, reports such as Campbell Soup’s latest Culinary Trendscape​ echo Ch’ien’s sentiment that ‘Advanced Japanese’ is one of 2017’s emerging food trends​ in the US.

Catering to the on-the-go culture

Yumami’s 3.5 oz, refrigerated bean dip and chip combo was designed to be “substantial enough to potentially be a mini-lunch [or] meal replacement, but works just as well as a grab-and-go snack,” ​Ch’ien said, adding that he sees the product poised to grow as it rides the tide of on-the-go grocery offerings, one of the fastest growing categories in 2016 according to Nielsen​.

Each pack, retailing for a suggested price of $4.99, comes with 3 oz of a bean dip—adzuki bean with ginger ponzu, edamame with green pea and wasabi, lentil with roasted onion and shiitake, or black bean with yuzu and chili—and popped rice nori chips, which also have corn, flax seed, quinoa, and chia seed, seasoned with sea salt.

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Founders of Yumami, clockwise from left: Ian Kwok, Lawrence Reutens, and Karsten Ch'ien.

The brand positions itself as a “sophisticated snack packed with protein & fiber,” ​and promotes itself for using American-grown beans from family-owned farms. Its target audience, for now, is mostly urban.

“Its mostly the on-the-go consumer—the young or young-at-heart professional living in the city, goes to the office, on the move, going to the gym after work,” ​Ch’ien said. They’re also targeting parents to stock Yumami’s Go-Dips and chips in their children’s lunchboxes.

Relying on umami

Ch’ien and the two other co-founders, Ian Kwok and Lawrence Reutens, are new to the packaged food industry. Ch’ien and Kwok’s backgrounds are in business, while Reutens brings culinary expertise to the team as the in-house chef (he was the chef and owner of now-closed NYC restaurant Masak). 

The three of them joined forces to realize their mission to bring healthier convenient food to the market, and the celebration of their Asian roots in the flavor and branding came after.

“Our core brand idea, that led to the name, came from when I was thinking about how to come up with a food that would be as attractive as junk food but actually healthy,” ​Ch’ien said.

“I thought that if we used ingredients that are rich in natural umami, that savory flavor, you can use less junk but have things taste really good. So even before thinking about Asian flavors, we thought of what savory flavors we can use,” ​he added. Hence the brand’s name, a portmanteau of yum and umami.

Confidence in the competition

Yumami’s competitive set are other grab-and-go chip-and-dip combos out there, such as Sabra’s classic hummus with pretzel chips. Because the hummus space is so competitive, Ch’ien and his team believe that their Japanese-inspired flavors and ingredients are a unique differentiator.

And while the brand is still in its very embryonic stages, Ch’ien is optimistic about its future. Winning a distribution deal with well-trusted company Dora’s Natural​ is a testament to the product, Ch’ien argued. “The fact that our initial launch is with a pretty big northeast Whole Foods regional roll out shows that the product is unique enough and good enough,” ​he added.

For 2017, the team will focus on penetrating even more regions and points-of-sale. And further down the road, the team would like to diversify its flavor offerings.

“For the initial launch, to focus our recipe development, we looked to Japan,” ​Ch’ien said. “But in the future we’d like to expand our horizons and look to other Asian regions.”

What are the emerging trends in snacks?

From sprouted mung beans to Japanese-inspired onigiri, the snacks market is a hotbed of innovation. But what’s next? Hear from Peeled Snacks, Dang Foods, Field Trip Jerky, Protes and board advisor and guru Brad Barnhorn at our Snacking Innovation Summit on Feb 15. Click HERE​ to learn more and register.

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