From Super 88 to H Mart to Jia Ho Supermarket, there’s no shortage of Asian grocery stores in the Greater Boston area. But as online grocery shopping grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, many Asian grocery stores lagged behind in offering a virtual shopping experience.
One MIT grad is hoping to change that.
In March, Andrea Xu launched Umamicart, an online grocery store specializing in products from Asian American- and immigrant-led businesses. Xu, who graduated in 2020 from the MIT Sloan School of Management, joined forces with co-founder Will Nichols to first debut Umamicart in Brooklyn, N.Y., before expanding to New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
On Monday, the company launched next-day delivery service in select zip codes in Massachusetts.
Xu, who grew up in Spain, called the idea for Umamicart a “culmination of what I’ve lived through my life.”
“My parents are Chinese, and they moved to Spain in their early 20s,” she told Boston.com. “They worked in Chinese restaurants and [opened] their own Chinese restaurants and just worked hard for their entire life. So that’s the entrepreneurial inspiration for me. Growing up in Spain, I’d been so used to not having access to these groceries and, at the same time, having them be so important to my cultural background and to my heritage. That was always a pain point. I never really questioned if that was right or wrong or if that could change because in Spain I was always really the only Asian person in the room. But I think coming to the U.S. for college and meeting so many other Asian American friends that had similar ties to these foods was very inspiring for me, and helped me get more in touch with my Asian identity.”
On Umamicart’s website, customers can shop for ingredients by category, including fruits, vegetables, meats and tofu, seafood, noodles, snacks and drinks, and “ready to eat” foods. Fans of Asian grocery stores will find plenty of familiar items: There are Champagne mangoes and young coconuts, Taiwanese flat cabbage and Korean radish, Japanese wagyu, and fresh tofu skin sticks. In the “noodles, rice, and grains” category, shoppers can choose from a wealth of starches, including shirataki noodles, wonton wrappers, sweet rice, and dozens of instant noodles. Fly by Jing’s cult classic Sichuan Chili Crisp is available, as is kimchi, tinned seafood, and numerous soy sauces. Customers can also peruse a list of recipes, stocking up on ingredients to make wonton noodle soup or garlic eggplant.
“Our seafood selection is unique because we have really high-quality sashimi fish,” Xu said, noting that the company works with a New York purveyor who supplies fish to some of New York City’s top sushi restaurants. “We also carry some whole fish, like tilapia, that’s been cleaned. I know that for folks that cook Asian dishes at home, it’s not easy to find whole fish that’s been pre-cleaned.”
Shoppers can also purchase collections curated by the Umamicart team, including Pantry 101, Summer Grill Kit, All Asian American, and its most recent collection, Olympics Watch Party, which features Japanese snacks and drinks like Calbee onion rings and Itoen jasmine tea. Xu said Umamicart works primarily with small- and medium-sized suppliers, and that the company is constantly adding new inventory.
“We try to understand the cuisines that we’re covering, and be thoughtful about curating a good mix of the staples that we know people will want to see,” she said. “We just on-boarded some really cool Singaporean chocolates that are on our site, called Fossa.”
Since its inception, Umamicart has partnered with organizations that champion the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, including Send Chinatown Love, Heart of Dinner, and the AAPI Community Fund. The business often donates a portion of proceeds or pounds of food to these various causes.
Now that Umamicart is in Massachusetts, shoppers have until 3 p.m. each day to place an order for next-day delivery (orders placed after 3 p.m. will arrive two days later). The shop currently features over 800 items, with plans to add Massachusetts brands in the future.
“Honestly, I just find it so exciting thinking back to my years [at MIT] and imagining I could’ve gotten this delivered to me,” Xu said. “That would have really made a difference, especially in the winter.”
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