If there was any doubt that the future of retail will be digital, personalized, and led by companies with bold new visions, the pandemic has put that doubt to rest. Exhibit A: Omsom, founded in March of 2020 by Kim and Vanessa Pham with the goal of transforming the way Americans experience Asian food. Omsom‘s direct-to-consumer model has succeeded thanks to the sisters‘ exceptional resourcefulness and media savvy, highlighted by high-profile collaborations with Pepper Teigen and Instapot.
Omsom‘s rapid ascent drew the attention of Klarna, the global payments and shopping service, which (in conjunction with FastCo Works) recognized the company with its inaugural Smoooth Move Award in the Small Star category celebrating “small businesses powering the future of retail.” In the following conversation, cofounder Kim Pham talks about Omsom‘s rise to success.
Why did you and your sister start Omsom?
Vanessa and I are Vietnamese Americans and daughters of refugees. We grew up in a 98% white town just south of Boston. Growing up, we internalized a lot of shame around our identity, and this was epitomized in the “ethnic aisle” in mainstream grocery stores. It just felt so old school and diluted and compromised. When we started Omsom, Vanessa and I were inspired to reimagine this category and do it the right way, really reclaiming the complexity of Asian flavors and trying to build a brand telling Asian stories with cultural integrity.
How is Omsom‘s distinctive vision driving a new kind of product?
I think there are two core differentiators between our products and those you typically see in the “ethnic aisle.” First is the starter packet format. Our starter packets are about the size of an M&M bag, and they have all the spices, seasonings, and oils you need to cook a specific Asian dish. You provide protein and vegetables, and you‘ve got everything you need to cook an Asian dish in under 30 minutes.
Second is the cultural integrity with which we make our products. We partner with iconic Asian chefs from across the country to make authentic recipes, and we source more than 90% of our ingredients directly from Asia.
How has Omsom had to be flexible in its messaging to thrive during a global pandemic?
Like many other small businesses, we‘ve been plagued with everything from supply chain issues to labor shortages during the pandemic. We also ran into challenges with our initial marketing strategy, because so much of what we set out to do was in person—breaking bread with influencers, with our community. But we were quick to pivot. For example, I ended up doing all the photo and video shoots in my apartment. I‘m not a photographer or a videographer, so I learned how to do it from YouTube videos. When you‘re a startup founder, you kind of learn to be a Swiss army knife.
I also think the pandemic forced us to have intense clarity about who we are and what we stand for. And I think that authenticity comes forth in our content.
You‘re still in the early stages as a company. How do you see Omsom growing over the next couple of years and beyond?
Our ambition is to be a household name. Right now, we sell largely through our website, and direct-to-consumer makes a ton of sense during this pandemic when folks are doing so much of their shopping online. But more than 70% of meal decisions are still made in the store, so we‘re thinking of how we can get Omsom into brick-and-mortar grocery stores this year. We‘re also looking at expanding beyond our starter packets, maybe into snacks or ready-made meals. Whatever our consumers want, we want to make sure we meet them where they are.
To learn more about the Klarna/FastCo Works Smoooth Move Awards and this year‘s winners, click here.