Noodles have been a daily staple for co-founders of immi, Kevin Chanthasiriphan and Kevin Lee, who come from Thai and Taiwanese food families, respectively, and instant ramen was always on hand growing up as a convenient and cheap way to enjoy noodles any time of day.
"Instant ramen is one of the world’s most ubiquitous and popular foods. For many people it’s one of the first foods you learn to cook as a kid because it can be microwaved. For other people, it’s that meal you enjoy in college," Chanthasiriphan told FoodNavigator-USA.
While the nostalgia and general consumer craving for instant ramen has held strong over the 60+ years since it's been in existence - first created in Japan in 1958 where it served a cheap and accessible food staple during Cold War food shortages - its ingredients and health credentials have not stood the test of time, especially in the US where the 'better-for-you' food movement has dominated consumer preferences, notes Lee.
"What we saw is that instant ramen sales had started to slowly decline since 2014, especially in the US. The category has really been dominated by a few Asian conglomerates who have really been selling the same instant ramen formula for 60 years, and it’s generally full of preservatives and sodium," Lee told FoodNavigator-USA.
Instant ramen, instant 'guilt'?
"If you ask most modern-day US consumers how they feel about instant ramen, you usually always get the same answer: 'Instant ramen tastes delicious, but I feel so guilty afterwards," he said.
Aside from the high sodium content typically associated with traditional products, instant ramen doesn't offer much to consumers in the way of protein, fiber, or other nutrients, added Lee.
"It’s clear that instant ramen still satisfies in a way that other foods can’t, but people just don’t want that guilt that comes with a cheaper meal anymore," said Lee.
With immi, Chanthasiriphan and Lee created a fresh, shelf-stable noodle made from a blend of pumpkin seed protein, wheat gluten, and fava bean protein, which they liken to soba or buckwheat noodles.
The products - which launched online this week - contain 31g of protein, 9-10g of fiber, 9g of net carbs and hover between 190 and 210 calories per serving.
The first three SKUs are familiar heritage flavors as well as the founders' particular favorites growing up: black garlic chicken, tom yum shrimp, and spicy beef.
'Thousands of our current immi members on low-carb or keto diets,
With its bold and colorful packaging, immi is working closely with influencers to spread the word about the new brand while gathering valuable insights about how it is resonating with consumers.
"We have a private data group that has helped provide feedback on the branding and product that’s really bolstered our ability and confidence to sell online," said Chanthasiriphan.
Through this digital feedback loop, the brand has learned more about its audience's eating habits and preferences.
"Thousands of our current immi members on low-carb or keto diets, for example," said Lee.
The brand also anticipates to benefit from the consumer behavior shifts that have occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, added Chanthasiriphan.
"During COVID, we have observed this rise and desire for comforting and nostalgic foods. We think that immi fits right into this trend. The other element is the inability and relucatance to shop at retail and many people are shopping online for their food needs, which really plays to our strengths because we are a digitally native brand," he said.
While immi started as a digitally-native brand and will remain online at least for the first phase of its launch, Chanthasiriphan and Lee want this to be a product accessible to all consumers eventually as the price point of the product is $56.24 for a variety nine-pack - far above instant ramen's sub $.50 per pack price tag.
"One of our core values for immi is that nourishment is for everyone," said Lee.
"As we grow into a larger brand and reach more economies of scale, we definitely aim to expand this product to even broader communities and make sure it’s more accessible."