Weee! taps Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu to boost food growth – Low Calorie Diets Tips

Online Grocery Delivery Weee! encourages customers to share videos of recipes and favorite items on its app. It specializes in hard-to-find Asian foods, as well as fruits, vegetables, and other staples.


Online Grocery Startup Weee! specializes in hard-to-find Asian and Hispanic foods. It snagged another kind of rarity earlier this year: a big Hollywood name in its executive suite.

The company hired Jon M. Chu, director of Crazy Rich Asians and the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, as chief creative officer. Chu brings his storytelling experience from the films, in which food and culture play a central role, to an in-house team of about 10 people who shine the spotlight on unique dishes and the ingredients needed to prepare them – sells on the ever-growing Weee! online platform.

Chu said he envisions adding unconventional features to the online grocer, like playlists of songs customers could listen to while cooking or a follow-up email they might receive about the history of items purchased.

“For me, that was more important than just doing a job for a start-up,” he said. “This was about my storytelling taking on a new form.”

Weee! sells more than 10,000 products, from kitchen-specific items like kimchi and frozen crab dumplings to staples like milk, bananas, and chicken breasts. Shoppers can browse the company’s website and app in multiple languages ​​including English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean or Spanish. Shoppers can also use the app to order takeout from more than 1,000 restaurants.

The San Francisco Bay Area-based startup now ships fresh produce in 18 states and ambient produce in all of the lower 48 states. It has eight fulfillment centers across the country, in states from Washington to New Jersey, where orders are packed and shipped.

The company is trying to differentiate itself in a fragmented space — and offers a glimpse of what online grocery shopping might look like in the future. The grocer’s app and website are changing the typical online grocery shopping experience to make it more social and immersive.

Weee! encourages customers to upload videos of recipes and favorite foods to its app via a TikTok-like feature. Shoppers can purchase snacks and ingredients featured in these videos with the click of a button. They get discounts when they refer a friend or family member and can share custom coupons for the items they recently bought.

“We simply believe that grocery shopping shouldn’t be how we see it today,” said founder and CEO Larry Liu. “It should be way, way better, way, way more inspiring and fun.”

change taste

Over the past two years, consumers have embraced new ways of stocking fridges and developing expanded palates while cooking more at home. This has inspired some to try meal packages, have groceries delivered to their door, or use curbside pickup.

The pandemic fueled the growth of Weee! The privately held, venture-backed start-up declined to share its total customer base and revenue, but said it has fulfilled more than 15 million orders to date. Monthly active users have grown by more than 150% year over year. To date, the startup has raised more than $800 million in funding — including a $425 million investment round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 announced in February.

The pandemic also catalyzed the US online grocery market, which accounts for a small but growing portion of the industry’s overall sales. Online grocery sales nearly doubled from $29.3 billion in 2019 to $57 billion in 2020, according to IRI E-Market Insights and Coresight Research. The companies estimate that online grocery sales in the country will reach nearly $90 billion this year. Still, brick-and-mortar retail still dominates the grocery category, with up to 95% of grocery retail spend in stores by 2021, according to research from Coresight.

Online grocers don’t have sample stations, colorful displays and other experiences that draw people into stores and encourage purchases, said Ken Fenyo, president of research and advisory at Coresight Research.

In stores, customers can “smell the fruit. You can walk down the aisles and see if there’s anything new you want. You might have that happy coincidence of, ‘Oh, I forgot I need this. he said. “Online tends to be a lot more search and listing oriented.”

Retailers like Weee! can revitalize experience elements in grocery shopping to make e-commerce more exciting and personalized, Fenyo said. Other direct-to-consumer grocers have carved out specialties, like Thrive Market, which sells organic and natural foods, or Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods, which sell high-quality groceries for less money by selling misshapen fruits and vegetables, broken chunks of almonds, or similar items.

The challenge for Weee! and other smaller online grocers are attracting new customers, keeping delivery costs down and fending off traditional grocers that might encroach on their turf, Fenyo said.

Larry Liu, a Chinese immigrant, founded Weee! because of his own struggles to find favorite foods.


The story of an immigrant

For Liu, 41, the challenges that Weee! were personal.

Liu, a first-generation Chinese immigrant, founded the company in 2015 after struggling to find some of his own favorite foods. Tired of the hour and a half drive to his nearest Asian market, he was inspired by seeing WeChat groups organized by others who missed the taste of home. In one instance, a woman coordinated a group order for friends — and friends of friends — who wanted to buy fresh cod from Half Moon Bay, California.

This experience later shaped some of the Weee! the special functions of the app, e.g. B. A Community tab that resembles a social network with a mix of corporate and user-generated videos.

Weee! caters to customers living in communities that don’t have the density to support a large Asian market like an H Mart, from international students attending college in the US to seniors living in assisted living facilities live, said Liu. Most customers order more than twice a month and Weee! accounts for about 40% to 50% of their monthly grocery budget, he said.

Weee! is gradually adding Hispanic foods as well. It offers a category of Mexican cuisine in California and Texas.

Popular items include everyday staples like rice and fresh vegetables, as well as seasonal items like sweet winter melons from Vietnam, hot pot kits from southern China and sesame cakes from northern China during the Lunar New Year.

The app also offers a rotating list of suggestions, such as B. Japanese snacks in celebration of sakura or cherry blossoms, spices or treats for Mother’s Day. It also offers a growing range of beauty and home items, such as Korean cosmetics.

Jon M. Chu attends Disney’s premiere of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” at El Capitan Theater on August 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

axelle | Farmer Griffin | MovieMagic | Getty Images

A new way of storytelling

Before Weee! By the time he hired film director Chu, he had already seen the company’s delivery trucks, heard about the company from friends, and started supplying Korean barbecue ingredients like sauce and short ribs as a customer. Intrigued by the company and its mission, he turned to Liu. Their conversations resulted in a job offer.

Chu will soon direct Universal Pictures’ adaptation of the Broadway hit “Wicked,” starring Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo. Despite the big project, he said he wanted space for Weee! in his schedule.

As a child, Chu often did his homework in the bar at Chef Chu’s, the family restaurant his parents opened in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969. The restaurant will be featured in a video about Weee!’s purpose of connecting generations and cultures with food.

Now a father himself, Chu said he wants to make sure his three young children learn about their culture.

“I wanted them when they smelled Asian food, [to feel] that it wasn’t exotic or strange to her,” he said. “That it was home to them, just as it was to me.”

Chu recently leveraged his Rolodex of Hollywood connections, teaming up with Disney and Pixar to develop recipes and videos for the Weee! App inspired by Turning Red, a coming-of-age movie about a Chinese-Canadian teenager who transforms into a giant red panda. Chu interviewed the film’s director, Domee Shi, about the making of the shoot and unpacked some of her favorite childhood snacks.

Chu and Liu said by telling the stories behind dishes, the food service can introduce people to new traditions and tastes.

Erin Edwards, 34, of Santa Ana, California, and her family are among those eaters. Edwards, who is neither Asian nor Hispanic, has placed her first order at Weee! in February after watching a video shared by a friend. Since then, she has continued to shop on the site to supplement her weekly purchases at Trader Joe’s and Target.

Her family of four has bought Chinese snacks and ingredients for Asian recipes, from crab-flavored potato chips to noodles for homemade pho. Pocky, Japanese chocolate-dipped cookie sticks, have become a favorite dessert of her 2-year-old daughter Holland and 4-year-old daughter Wren.

“Seeing people make videos and do tutorials makes it so easy,” she said. “We’re much stronger at doing it ourselves.”

Liu said he sees a similar culture of sharing with his three young children.

“Your classmates, regardless of their skin color, all drink boba milk tea. They all eat sushi. They all eat Korean barbecue and Indian curry and Mexican tacos,” he said. “So I think the tastes of the future generation will be very, very diverse. In a way, we’re really building the range for the future cultural explorers.”

Disclosure: CNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, Universal Pictures’ parent company.

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