After Ibraheem Basir had his daughter, he experienced a light bulb moment. His young child was entering into a large extended family, where she would join his 11 nieces and nephews. Her birth not only sparked his next generation; it also sparked the name of his new food company.
Since his daughter was the 12th child born, Basir decided to name his brand A Dozen Cousins, as a way to pay homage to the role food and fellowship have in preserving heritage and culture.
The company sells products inspired by traditional Creole, Caribbean and Latin American foods. Among the offerings are Cuban black beans, Mexican Cowboy Pinto Beans, Refried Black Beans, Trini Chickpea Curry and Creole Red Beans.
“I grew up in a big family where food was the center of our celebrations and gatherings. We lived in the culinary melting pot of Brooklyn, so besides just cooking her native Southern dishes, my mother was always picking up new recipes from our Caribbean and Latin American neighbors,” he told LA Parent.
He explained his company’s inspiration. “As I got older, I realized that it was hard to find a lot of these familiar, cultural dishes in a format that was both convenient and nutritious. I either had to cook them all from scratch or use processed options with ingredients that I was trying to avoid,” he told LA Parent. “I started A Dozen Cousins so that people who wanted the same things I did wouldn’t have to make a tradeoff between taste, health and culture.”
The Funding Journey
Officially launched four years ago, Basir completed his first round of seed funding on Aug. 14, 2018, as a promising startup. By New Year’s Day of 2020, he received another influx of cash, successfully completing the company’s second round, according to Pitchbook.
Seed funding can play a huge part for new companies hoping to experience fast growth. Much of the capital raised during this phase in establishing a startup’s foundation comes primarily from private investors, but oftentimes accredited investors, crowdfunding investors and angel investors also contribute to the initial money boost these new businesses need to have a competitive advantage in their marketplace and the necessary finances needed to navigate unpredictable business territories.
This was especially true for Basir’s A Dozen Cousins brand, whose story of Black America’s melting pot and some of the health challenges around traditional meals piqued the interests of investors.
Seed money opened the doors for A Dozen Cousins, but was not the only source of funding the company received before opening to the commercial market on a grand scale.
Weeks after receiving his second round of seed money, the brand was able to secure a grant to help the company inch closer to its mission, and Basir’s dream. In March 2020, Basir, who not only founded the company but serves as its Chief Operating Officer, joined a program where he and his brand could learn the fundamentals of business in a collective, and by January 2021, he entered into his Series A early stage of seeking venture capital funding.
Pushback on Diversity
In the process of those three years, he learned that he could not compromise his vision, even as big investors had their own plans to cut corners or tone down his vibrant flavors.
“The process of raising money for an early-stage business is hard, because you’re trying to convince people to believe in something that doesn’t exist yet, and to part with their money,” reflected Basir in an interview with Entrepreneur.com.
Many told him ethnic food was too thin a niche market to turn a profit. But Basir stuck with what he knew, the demographic he wanted to feed, and what the data also supports: Americans love diversity.
“The data has always been obvious to me that Black and Latino consumers are not only a big spending block, but we are also highly influential in terms of how other Americans eat and behave,” Basir explained. “At the end of the day, I am part of the community we are serving. I am not here to convince others that the market exists; I spend my time and energy bringing the vision to life.”
According to a Nielsen report, the multicultural consumer, those representing the Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian communities, has in their collective a spending power of $3.2 trillion. This kind of power is not isolated to a tiny group of consumers, but 40 percent of the U.S. population.
The Good Problem
On the brink of 2023, Basir is facing a “good problem.” His food is flying off the shelves and a few of his customers’ favorite variety packages are even sold out on his website.
The staples in A Dozen Cousins are the bean collection, rice collection and seasoning sauce packs. The flavors jump from Caribbean jerk seasoning to Mexican red flavor to Peruvian Pollo A La Brasa. The seasoning sauces are the Brooklyn native’s favorite products from the brand.
“There are so many great dishes requiring multiple steps, overnight marinade, and 10-15 ingredients that you may only use once,” he said. “Our seasoning sauces are great because they simplify even the most complicated dishes down to one or two steps, and they provide just the right amount of product for 2-4 servings. I have been enjoying our jerk chicken and coconut rice seasoning sauces for this reason.”
One special 2022 collaboration was with Marvel. The brand created a special variety package around the blockbuster hit movie “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” After seeing the first film, he made it his business to be a part of the second installment.
He said, “We ultimately collaborated with Marvel to create custom packaging for a limited-edition jollof rice as well as our jerk chicken and coconut rice seasoning sauces.”
“As a bonus, we also created a ‘vibranium’ spoon, inspired by the rare metal found in the Black Panther’s homeland of Wakanda,” he said, before sharing, “We couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out.”
A Dozen Cousins is not just sold on its website but has shelf space in local markets, as well as in Target, Walmart and Amazon.
In addition to selling healthy food, rich with cultural flavor, Basir has developed a social impact arm for the company that gives back both financially and with information.
Stressing the importance, he said, “For several genetic, cultural, and socioeconomic reasons, the Black community in America suffers disproportionately from food-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. If we want to live long and vibrant lives, it is imperative that we focus on eating healthy foods and staying active.”
“At A Dozen Cousins, we believe that a person’s income and ethnicity shouldn’t determine their health or quality of life, but we know that is often the case,” said Basir, who sits on the board of Project Potluck, and is an advocate for representation in the consumer packaged goods industry.
“As a brand, we have chosen to focus our impact on eliminating socioeconomic health disparities in the U.S.,” he said. “Each year we give a grant to a non-profit organization working in this space.”
Two of those recipients are The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre and Project Potluck, organizations dedicated to the elimination of socioeconomic health disparities in the U.S.