“When I started this company, even before I knew exactly what products I would be making or what the branding would be, I had this overarching goal to help more people eat healthy. People, specifically, who look more like me,” said Basir, who identifies as an African American who grew up in a Black and Latino community.
He explained that while Black and Latino groups historically are less healthy than the national average and struggle disproportionately with obesity, high blood pressure, hyper-tension and diabetes, they often are overlooked by the natural products industry.
“I spent years working in the natural products industry, and there was always a bit of a disconnect for me because we were making these great, premium, high-end products” that ostensibly could help consumers address chronic diseases associated with diet, but “ultimately, the people who need them the most are the people who they are marketed to least,” he said.
Basir said the problem is two-fold. The first problem is that most better-for-you brands do not reflect or speak to the cultures of those who need them most. The second is better-for-you brands often are out of reach of those populations who could most benefit from them either because the price point is too high or they are not easily accessible in their community stores.
In response, Basir said, A Dozen Cousins is taking a two-prong approach.
Creating a better-for-you brand for a more diverse consumer base
To tackle the first problem, Basir created A Dozen Cousins to be a natural food brand for “diverse, young consumers who are very health-minded, but a barrier to them eating more natural or organic and healthy foods is that there is not a brand that kind of speaks our language or prepares the food we are used to eating … and I consider myself in that group.”
He hopes that by making natural products inspired by the traditional Creole, Caribbean and Latin American dishes he grew up eating with neighbors that A Dozen Cousins “can help improve the health of these groups through the brand and the products.”
Currently, A Dozen Cousins offers three SKUs of premium heat-and-eat beans, including Mexican Cowboy Beans, Cuban Black Beans and Trini Chickpea Curry – all of which are made with healthier, premium ingredients than are used traditionally.
The beans began hitting store shelves in January and February in select brick and mortar stores, and are available via Amazon, where Basir says they “have a pretty lively digital presence.”
Executing a strong social mission
Recognizing that A Dozen Cousins’ premium pricing will keep the better-for-you product out of the hands of some of people who could most benefit from them, Basir built into the brand a strong social impact component that is focused on educating people about the value of eating healthy and addressing associated cost and access issues.
“This is a pretty thorny issue if you think about why do some communities struggle with their health. It is a combination of income, it is a combination of urban planning and do you have outdoor space to play that is safe and easily available. It is a question of food access. There are a lot of things that can go into it, and hopefully through the life of the brand we can tackle different angles,” by partnering with a different non-profit each year, Basir said.
To kick off the brand’s social impact, A Dozen Cousins this year is partnering with The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre, which is a program of the Sustainable Food Center in Austin, Texas, that offers health and nutrition courses to communities that are facing health disparities.
Basir explained that he decided to sponsor two six-week health and nutrition courses offered by the non-profit in order to “arm people with the tools they need to eat healthy.”
He added that he chose the program for three main reasons.
The first is that the classes are culturally relevant and show students how to easily adapt the recipes they already make to be healthier – such as using more vegetables and poultry in tacos and less red meat or baking catfish instead of frying it.
Basir also appreciated that the instructors all are former students, and that because classes are held in the communities the teachers share a common ground with their students.
“A lot of times, I think, non-profit work or social impact work can feel like random people swooping into your community and telling you what to do,” but in this case, Basir said, when students walk into the class they are greeted by faces who look like them and are in the same position as them.
Ultimately, by taking this two-prong approach, Basir said he hopes to not only reach more people but also a wider range of people who all will learn to eat healthier so that the socio-economic health disparities that place them at a disadvantage can slowly be eroded.