Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

Founder Feature:
Ashley Xie and Hedy Yu of Rooted Fare

Meet Rooted Fare: the brand honoring their Chinese-American roots one delicious spread at a time

For Hedy Yu and Ashley Xie, the co-founders of Rooted Fare, their story begins in childhood. Hedy says, “We’re second-generation Chinese-Americans, and we’ve known each other since we were five or six years old; we used to get carted off to Chinese language school after our usual K through 12. We were never in the same grade, so I always saw Ashley as this big sister figure.”

As they got older, the pair remained connected on social media even as their lives diverged. Ashley pursued her Master’s in Food Studies at NYU, where she took a course in food entrepreneurship. In the class, she explains, I fell in love with creating your own products, and I began applying to business competitions in New York.” Around this time, Hedy saw Ashley on Linkedin and thought, “I wonder what she’s up to.” The two hopped on a call and Ashley shared the first iterations of Rooted Fare. Hedy says, “I was so excited about it. She just happened to need someone to do marketing for the business plan for a business competition, and I immediately said, ‘That sounds so meaningful. I would love to do it.” And from this conversation Rooted Fare was officially born.

What is Rooted Fare?

Rooted Fare is a brand that celebrates Ashley and Hedy’s Chinese heritage with an American twist. Hedy says, “We’ve always had to straddle two worlds — American society and Chinese immigrant parents. When I went to college, I missed the flavors of my childhood, and it was the same for Ashley.” From this shared experience, Ashley and Hedy created their first product, Cruncy Black Sesame Butter, which, Hedy explains, “pays homage to a Chinese dessert you eat to represent coming together as a family on the last day of the Lunar New Year.”

While Hedy leads the marketing efforts at Rooted Fare, Ashley is the culinary mastermind behind their products. As a child, when Ashley wasn’t at school, she was in the kitchen. She says, “When my parents immigrated from China, they started a restaurant in LA, so my fondest memories are in the kitchen.” Ashley pulled from her culinary heritage to develop their Crunchy Black Sesame Butter, basing the product on her Grandmother’s recipe for sweet tang yuan, a glutinous rice ball filled with freshly ground black sesame seeds.

At first, Ashley and Hedy focused exclusively on creating and selling their Crunchy Black Sesame Butter, but over time, they began itching for a new creative undertaking. They decided to craft a limited-edition flavor and began brainstorming new and unique flavor combinations. Ashley returned to her favorite source of inspiration: her local Chinese grocer. She says, “I would walk up and down the aisle at the Chinese grocery store thinking, ‘That could be cool in a spread.’ And that’s what inspired me to create our Pineapple Cake Cashew Butter.”

Rooted Fare launched the limited edition Pineapple Cake Cashew Butter flavor over the holidays, and to their surprise, it sold out in just four days. Hedy says, “We made a very small batch because we knew we liked it, but we wanted to make sure the customers liked it, too. We couldn’t have imagined [the response] to be so positive. People reached out to say, ‘You need to make this forever.” Given this success, Hedy and Ashley brought Pineapple Cake Cashew Butter back for the Lunar New Year alongside yet another flavor to represent the cultural significance of the holiday. Hedy explains, “We did a Red Dragon Passion Fruit spread, which is super tart, light, and bright. It’s very different from our flagship product, and people loved it. We were inspired by it, too, so people should look out for our next [limited edition flavor.]”

Word-of-mouth growth and audacious goals

Ashley and Hedy credit much of their success thus far to their commitment to in-person events and word-of-mouth growth. Hedy says, “The LA pop-up scene has really benefited us. There are a lot of pop-ups that celebrate Asian American culture, and we’ve discovered a lot of customers through that.” Their pop-up presence has gone hand-in-hand with their DTC growth. Hedy explains, “We’ve gone from selling $10 a month to selling hundreds and hundreds of jars [DTC]. We’ve been so grateful to people sharing [Rooted Fare] with their circles. Word of mouth has been huge for us, and we still primarily grow that way. When we go to these pop-ups, people will say, ‘Oh my god, I had this at my friend’s dinner party.’ Or, ‘I’m so excited to try this because I saw my friend post about it.’ The spirit of sharing and people genuinely loving the product has been amazing.”

In terms of retail, Rooted Fare has found success stocking their products in specialty boutiques and grocers for now but has its sights set on much larger waters. Hedy says, “Our big audacious goal is to be in every American’s pantry in the same way that Jiff and Justins are…We chose spread as a format because it’s so versatile and you can put it on everything. Taking a flavor that you can only have in a specific dessert and turning it into an everyday product — I think that’s pretty revolutionary.”

The challenges of entrepreneurship

For Ashley, the greatest challenge in running Rooted Fare is managing inventory. She says, “We get our black sesame overseas, so coordinating when to order [is challenging.] We’re always like, ‘We’re on our last box. What do we do?’ It has always worked out, but it’s something we want to get better at. As we’re getting more and more customers and retailers, I’ve realized, ‘Okay, we need to get this tuned up.’

On the marketing side, Hedy has had to navigate challenges around communication. She explains, “In the very beginning — and this is probably something a lot of Asian brands experience — people would say, ‘I don’t get it.’ For people who grew up with black sesame or who have tried it before, it’s an easy sell. But most of the population has probably only had [black sesame] as a garnish, so they don’t know what it tastes like. They are also sometimes turned off by it being black, even though tons of products people love — like Oreos and dark chocolate — are black. The challenge has been to invite people to give [Rooted Fare] a try. Four out of five times people love it, so how do we get more people to try it?”

Despite the challenges, Hedy and Ashley have found great pride in bringing Rooted Fare to consumers. Hedy says, “I received an email a year and a half ago from a woman who said, ‘I have not been able to get this taste since I was a little girl growing up in Hong Kong. Thank you so much for bringing these memories back.’ We’ve had people cry in front of us at pop-ups. And it hits home because we created this out of our desire to connect with [our heritage]. So whenever someone says, ‘I want to share it with my mom.’ Or, ‘This brings me back home,’ I am so proud…We’ve had the opportunity to create something that’s home in a jar for us and for other people. And we knew that if we liked it, other people would like it, too, and thankfully, that has been the case.”

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