Ibraheem Basir launched his business, A Dozen Cousins, to meld his joy for food with his passion for health and sustainability. The company makes ready-to-eat beans in pouches that are laced with the flavors of the southern U.S. and Latin America. Basir comes from a large family, and when his daughter was born, she became the “dozenth cousin,” hence the company’s name.
Just two years into his journey, Basir is launching into Target on the West Coast today. In celebration of the launch, he goes deep on why he loves beans, how to break into retail, and his advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs.
Why did you start a Dozen Cousins?
I grew up in Brooklyn in a really big family. I have 9 siblings, and 11 nieces and nephews. My daughter was the 12th cousin, which is where the brand gets its name from.
I always knew I wanted to work in the food industry. After I got my MBA, I started working at General Mills. I started learning more about the natural food space, and about ingredients and sourcing. While working on Annie’s [the organic brand owned by General Mills], the idea came to me.
There was a dichotomy between my life in Berkeley, which was focused on health, wellness and the environment, and my life in Brooklyn, where food was about joy, family and taste. There was a cognitive dissonance for how I thought about food from 9am-5pm, and how I thought about food from 5pm-9am. I wanted to create a brand to pair the joy of the food that I grew up with, and the sustainable and healthy food that I enjoyed as I got older.
Today you are launching in Target. What does it take to break through to mass retail?
First and foremost, we are really excited to launch into Target on the West Coast, our home region. In terms of breaking into retail, we really focused on our points of difference. We can say to any retailer that we can be both incremental to your category and we can generate awareness for that category.
I learned this during my ‘Big CPG’ days—while branding and storytelling are important, retailers care about incrementality. It’s not about stealing sales, but about building sales.
Because of A Dozen Cousins, people are willing to eat beans more frequently, to eat them at different times of the day, and they are willing to pay a premium for beans.
And it makes sense. Beans take at least three hours to cook, while most people are spending just 20-30 minutes to prepare dinner. A Dozen Cousins has taken out all of the prep time for our customers, so they can enjoy them during a busy lunch at home.
So… why focus on beans?
Beans are a great category for us to focus on because they combine taste, health, and culture in a unique way. They are high in protein, fiber, and they have a ton of vitamins and minerals. And there is an emotional connection between Black and Latinix cultures and cuisine. We focus on the southern U.S. and Latin America. Each of these subregions has a bean that they hold near and dear. Chickpeas in Trinidad, pinto beans in Mexico, refried beans across the region.
A Dozen Cousins makes pouches of ready to eat beans. They are cooked with real vegetables and spices, with avocado oil, and apple cider vinegar. The only place you’ll get a better bean at home is if you cook them yourself.
What else has changed for you since the pandemic?
The pandemic has definitely accelerated the trial of our product. A year ago, who was eating beans for lunch? Now we see so much traction for quick work lunches, for meal prep solutions. With work from home, people have 30 minute between meetings, and they are pulling out our beans.
We have had tremendous growth during the pandemic. Bean sales overall are up 100% year-over-year. Our e-commerce sales are 7x in August compared to what they were in March. Our retail velocity is up 30% to 40%.
We are now in year two of the business. Year one was hopes and dreams. In year two, we are starting to have real traction and growth. In the mass grocery category, we are launching into Costco and Target on the West Coast. We are sold nationwide at Whole Foods stores, and at Vitamin Cottage and Natural Grocers.
You said that A Dozen Cousins brings health, culture and joy together. Who are your customers?
Originally I focused on Latinx and Black consumers who were looking for clean versions of the foods that they grew up with. The brand has resonated really well with that segment. If you look at Amazon reviews, at social media, you can see that this group has been so important to us. It is our brand soul.
Plant-based customers are also important. They are vegetarian, flexitarian, and they are people who are trying to limit their meat intake. It makes sense. Beans are a natural source of plant protein. It’s been great to be a clean, unprocessed solution for that consumer.
The last segment are flavor explorers. People who really value and enjoy global food. That can be Indian, Thai, Asian, or Chinese. They love curries and spices, and they want to know the story behind the dishes. They enjoy the full-flavored, authentic experience of food. This customer group allows us to be ourselves.
What do you want to say to aspiring entrepreneurs like yourself?
You really want to start with a product that is different and better than the alternatives. You will need many things to succeed—a cool brand, strong distribution, and great retail partners. You will fight a million uphill battles. Trust me, everything is made easier by having a great product that is better than the alternative. If the product is excellent, the repeat customer will solve itself.