This online marketplace is diversifying your snack options.
Photo courtesy of Tiny Bodega
The summer of 2020 was characterized not only by the ongoing pandemic, but also a public display of violence that shook the entire world. While many participated in protests, rallies, and marches to fight against racial injustice, others felt the best way to join the movement was to literally put their money where their mouths were. What followed was a surge in support of Black-owned businesses, which were hit the hardest by the pandemic.
For Harlem resident Taylor Cook, starting Tiny Bodega in July 2020 was her way of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and continuing the momentum for these businesses that needed a boost. What originally started as an Instagram page that highlighted brands owned by people of color now serves as an online marketplace carrying products from some of the same brands with a focus on healthy alternatives to pantry goods.
“I just started compiling and making this visual list that lived on Instagram because I knew that if I was interested in it, other people would also be interested in it. And all of a sudden people started to reach out to me asking how to get in touch with the brands and I’d tell them they weren’t mine,” Cook said. “But I felt there was something that I was starting to build that I didn’t realize that I was building. I reached out to a couple of the brands that I spotlighted on the Instagram platform and started to gauge their interest in being a part of a marketplace.”
Due to Cook’s own food allergies and sensitivities, having options that are conscious of various health and food restrictions is a priority, but you of course don’t have to have a food allergy to enjoy them. You can choose from three discovery boxes (brunch, snack, and dinner) that contain a variety of items ranging from savory Cuban black beans and strawberry flavored beef jerky to carbonated mixers and crumbless granola bites. Cook said there are plans to expand to let buyers purchase specific products and create their own carts.
“Food has always been super important to me. It’s very political, so I decided that my protests would be with the decolonization of the food industry and really trying to regain that narrative around food cultures and to help support Black founders and Black-owned brands and BIPOC brands as a whole,” Cook said.
Many grocery stores have what is commonly labeled an “ethnic” or “multicultural” aisle with an array of food products from various cultures. While these aisles do make it simpler to find specific seasonings, ingredients, and snacks all in one place, the problem also lies in the attempted solution: if you’re not specifically looking for these items, you won’t see them or know about them. Cook wants Tiny Bodega to free these kinds of products from the constraints of the “ethnic aisle.”
Communities of color make up a large, growing portion of buying power in the U.S., yet the brand ownership in many major stores and retailers don’t always reflect these consumers.
“Historically, there hasn’t been a platform for brands owned by people of color. There are so many cool brands, creative ideas, and amazing founders out there. And they’re hard to find, you just don’t know about them,” Cook said. “I want to make that access brighter. I want to make sure that they are visible.”
This brings us to the true essence of Tiny Bodega’s boxes: they allow you to sample and experiment with flavors and foods you aren’t already familiar with, or if you are, showcase new ways to experience them. Not only does each box come with goodies, but they also include curated recipes from chefs, food writers and other creators based on the type of box you order.
“I put a lot of thought into bringing in these food content creators to create food guides for each of the boxes so that people actually had some sort of guide to go on. A lot of the products in the boxes might be a completely new grain that people don’t really know about and never really used or one of the snacks might have an ingredient in there, like our cactus snacks that are new to certain people’s palate,” Cook said.
The brunch box for example features a cocktail recipe created by the founders of Apogeo Collective using one of AVEC Drinks’s carbonated mixers which are full of natural fruit juices and no added sugar.
Denetrias Charlemagne and Alex Doman launched AVEC in June 2020 with a mission to “drink better,” with the only sugar in the mixers coming from fruits like hibiscus, pomegranate, grapefruit and other natural extracts. Like Cook, Charlemagne is also a Harlem resident and said that partnerships like the one AVEC has with Tiny Bodega is how she’s been able to grow the brand and make it accessible to more people.
“We believe people that drink together feel better connected, and create a world where people have new experiences and mix with people of diverse backgrounds to have real conversations. It’s not just about Black brands, it’s about Indian brands and Asian brands, and there’s different needs and different communities that can come together. If you think about cooking and drinking and recipes, literally, there’s a diversity of ingredients. And if you don’t have a diversity of people with different taste pallets and things, you’re going to get the same shit,” Charlemagne said.
Tiny Bodega acts as a giant food oasis, pulling in a variety of flavors, styles, and personalities to create boxes of items that not only offer a chance to find a new pantry staple, but also tell the stories of the cultures that produce them.
“It was very important that I allowed for food makers to regain their culture and regain the narrative around their foods and the foods from their culture, as well as provide a platform for them to sell,” Cook said.
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