The trade group will also bring founders together to collaborate and share insight to win at retail, Jake Deleon, a founder of the group and the Filipino food brand Fila Manila told FoodNavigator-USA.
Founders Heritage kicked off at Natural Product Expo West earlier this month with several founding members and brands, including Hector Salvidar of Tia Lupita; Leland and Sarah Copenhagen of Yai's Thai; Gabriela, Jess, and Natalia Dalton Salazar of Saucy Lips; and Cuong, Tracy, and Tiffany Pham of Red Boat Foods. Currently, Founders Heritage includes 20 brands and plans to grow the community, Deleon said.
“We know all the same buyers; we know all the same co-manufacturer; we know all the same suppliers. Then, we might as well trade ideas with each other because we're so tied together in our belief that the products that we provide should come from a place of heart or a place of authenticity.”
Representing cultures and heritages at a time of increased
The idea of Founders Heritage came to Deleon when he started Fila Manila and came across another Filipino food brand and found out that the other brand didn't actually have any roots in Filipino heritage or culture.
“I don't believe in gatekeeping by all means, but ... if someone were really to share the true Filipino heritage and cultural story, it feels kind of special if it comes from someone from that culture or said heritage. So, that's what really kind of gave me that spark of like gasoline fire to start Fila Manila.”
As Fila Manila grew its brand, Deleon noticed that many other founders had similar experiences in the food and beverage industry and wanted to find a way to bring these diverse brands together with the mission of sharing their cultures and heritages.
The start of Founders Heritage also comes at a time when global flavors are seeing growth in the food and beverage industry, and consumer demands for authentic brands, especially among younger consumers, Deleon noted. A Survey Monkey report found that 32% of Gen Z consumers say brand authenticity is crucial to their purchase decision, compared to 24% of millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers.
Providing a way for consumers to track authenticity
The Founders Heritage network is also working on developing a certification program, which will provide brands a way to visually identify that their products come from the founder’s heritage and culture, Deleon explained. While details of the certification process are forthcoming, Fila Manila will be one of the first brands to display the Founders Heritage certification logo on its line of condiments.
To create the Founders Heritage certification, Deleon said he took "notes from other prominent groups that are out there." Using a similar framework to Minority-Owned Business, which states that 51% of the business is owned by a member of a minority group, Founders Heritage requires "51% of the business ... be owned or founded by someone who represents the culture they're from," Deleon said.
Founders Heritage reviews each brand on a “case-by-case basis” to determine if the founder’s culture and heritage are represented in the products that they sell, Deleon explained. The goal isn’t to assign a “right or wrong answer,” instead it gives consumers a transparent way to understand where the brand is coming from, he added.
“We celebrate all entrepreneurship, but it's just the fact that we're giving consumers that added layer of transparency [saying,] ‘Hey, there's something magical if you're buying or supporting a brand that actually comes from a place of heart.’”
Readying Fila Manila’s next stage of growth
On top of building out the Founders Heritage network, Fila Manila is looking to expand its distribution while also reducing prices through innovation, Deleon said. For one, Fila Manila is also changing its packaging from glass bottles to pouches, which will lower its prices and create more margin for retailers, Deleon said.
Recently, Fila Manila released an Upcycled Certified banana ketchup. While it hasn't seen widespread use in the US, "banana ketchup has been long enjoyed by millions of families across the world, not just in Asia but even in Latin America," Deleon noted.
More consumers will also have access to Fila Manila, as the brand has secured more distribution across several channels, Deleon noted. Whole Foods is "quadrupling [the brand's] store count this June," and Target is distributing its pouches, he added.
The overall goal of these new products and format is to make “Filipino food accessible for everyone,” Deleon said. "In essence, we're hoping to continue our vision of representing Filipino cuisine across the US, so lots of new products, lots of new innovations, and lots of distribution coming,” he added.