For Ibraheem Basir, founder and CEO of A Dozen Cousins, introducing a new line of culturally authentic bean recipes sprang from a yearning to see traditional preparations and healthy options combined in a convenient solution. “Your culture and the food you grew up eating and loving don’t necessarily have to be at odds with leading a healthy lifestyle,” he says, talking about his California-based venture that is, in a way, disrupting the stagnant bean category in supermarket aisles. Sensing the lack of innovation in this section of consumer packaged products, he strategically launched with three flavor offerings earlier this year, although work on the brand began in 2018.
A Dozen Cousins products are ready to eat, fully cooked beans with no refrigeration required and a 12-month shelf life. Packages are microwavable and need just a minute of heating. As a 100 percent plant-based protein, it caters to vegan and vegetarian audiences. It is also non-GMO and naturally gluten-free. The products are made with beans sourced from the Pacific Northwest and Midwest USA. Made with avocado oil, seasonal grilled vegetables and real spices, flavors include Cuban Black Beans, Mexican Cowboy Beans and Trinidadian Chickpea Curry. You can find them online on Amazon and at Whole Foods locations nationwide as well as a variety of independent retailers and small chains.
Planting First Deeds
“I come from a really big family, with nine siblings, and lots of nieces and nephews. When my daughter was born, she was the 12th cousin and that’s where the brand name comes from,” says Basir. “Food was important to us. It’s how we reconnected at the end of the day, celebrated holidays and marked important milestones, so I always knew I wanted to work in the food industry.” Fast forward a few years to his last role as an employee, Basir was working with a natural food brand and noticed how nutrition-conscious and environmentally friendly customers were, including having a high awareness for ingredient quality and sourcing.
But when he would go back home to New York, the conversation around food was of a different nature. “Does this taste good, is it seasoned right, did you use the right recipe…those were the questions we asked,” he says. “When I first had the idea for A Dozen Cousins, the vision was to bring those two worlds together.” Growing up in a predominantly Black and Latino community in Brooklyn, a lot of Creole, Caribbean, and Latin American influences inspired the food Basir enjoyed. “My goal was to try to pair the authenticity and the flavor of those dishes with everything I had been learning about natural foods.”
Growing a Business
Expansion plans include launching additional bean flavors into the second half of the year, although Basir isn’t at liberty to share specifics. “In five years, my hope is that you can prepare an entire meal using our products. I am just getting started with beans but envision a variety of meal items to go along with dinner,” he shares, speaking of the sentiments associated with food. “People want to connect with their loved ones, they want to put something healthy on the table, but then they also have restrictions with time. A Dozen Cousins can help with that by allowing people to eat food that’s authentic, tastes really good, is wholesome and convenient — that’s our innovation pipeline over time.”
The bean category consists of three main segments — dry, canned and prepared/seasoned beans. Each, however, has its own set of drawbacks and Basir addresses those with his innovative line of bean products. While dry beans provide the best product experience, the time required to cook them is a challenge. Canned beans are better in that they cook faster but still need the seasoning and other ingredients added in. There is, additionally, a general move away from canned products, he observes, due to BPA use and extended shelf life durations. Lastly, the prepared beans segment, such as refried beans and baked beans, hasn’t offered much innovation over the last few years.
Making a Difference
“We have a point of superiority because our flavors are unique in the category and in packaging. We use avocado oil instead of any processed oil and that is how there is differentiation in terms of flavor and ingredient quality. But also in those three segments in the market today and how we are solving some of the pain points they leave behind,” he shares. Another manner in which A Dozen Cousins is making an impact is with a social cause focus, partnering with nonprofits that are combating socioeconomic health disparities. “One of the core goals when starting the brand was to get more diverse people involved with the natural products world,” Basir says.
“We also want to reach the population that may not be in a position to buy premium food. Simply put, if you are Black, brown or poor, you are more likely to suffer from food-related illnesses like blood pressure, diabetes, etc.,” he says. “But you can’t separate culture from food. Those two things are intrinsic.” Aligned with that philosophy, the first donation this year was to The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre in Austin, TX which teaches culturally relevant food nutrition classes, tailoring the content to the audience as actionable steps tied to their culture. As Basir shares, “A lot of what we try to do at A Dozen Cousins is celebrate that interconnection between culture and food.”
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