How This Ready-To-Eat Food Startup Is Adding Diversity Back To Your Food Aisle
Credit: A Dozen Cousins

Ibraheem Basir was working on the Annie’s division of General Mills when he decided to create a brand that pairs the joy of the foods he grew up eating with the sustainable and healthy dishes he enjoys now. 

From there, A Dozen Cousins was born.

A Dozen Cousins is the delicious result of the Brooklyn, New York native’s hard work and dedication to bringing heartwarming, crowd-pleasing and convenient side dishes to the masses. This Black-owned brand launched less than three years ago with a line of modernized nutrient dense ready-to-eat beans inspired by traditional Black and Latino recipes, disrupting the food industry at large and adding diversity back to our food aisles. Now the brand has expanded its product lines – rice and beans (with more on the way) – and uniting convenience, authenticity and flavor into microwavable pouches that are ready in just 60 seconds.

Named for Basir’s daughter and her eleven cousins, A Dozen Cousins has become a way to recreate the authentic foods he loved as a child in a healthy, easy way. In this interview with ESSENCE, Basir describes what sets the brand apart from other foods in the ethnic food aisle, challenges he’s faced during his startup journey and plans for expansion.

Culture and family are at the center of your company. Do you consider this to be your secret sauce? 

Culture and family are definitely at the core of what we do, and yes, they can be considered as part of our “secret sauce.” These values inspire our brand, from the products themselves to our packaging design and social media content.The recipes that we use are a tribute to my experience growing up in Brooklyn and my exposure to a melting pot of my mother’s native southern cooking and the rich flavors that we picked up from my Caribbean and Latin American neighbors, so I always want to make sure we are honoring the people and places that make our foods special. That focus on culture even impacts the way we have built our company- 100% of the A Dozen Cousins team comes from either a minority or multiethnic background, and 80% of the team is either Black or Latino. I think this approach has allowed us to keep the brand authentic and connect with our consumers on a deeper level. 

What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting the A Dozen Cousins? 

The biggest challenge of starting A Dozen Cousins has been managing the ups and downs of a growing business while raising two young children. It has forced me to be very disciplined in how I manage my time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! The biggest reward of building A Dozen Cousins has been having the freedom to handpick my team and our key partners. They are all people I genuinely enjoy working with and spending time with. 

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? 

Only worry about things that you can control. It’s easy to get pre-occupied with competitors or to get caught up trying to change the unchangeable. However, there is no reason for me to put my time and effort into those things when I can prioritize things that are in my control. Not only do I think this advice has made me a better leader, but it has also made the journey a lot more enjoyable. 

There are other companies — similarly suited — that are currently in the ethnic food aisles. What makes A Dozen Cousins different? 

There are three key pillars that set us apart from other brands: convenience, quality, and culture. A Dozen Cousins’ products bridge a gap in the natural food industry. Many of the current cultural brands are highly processed while natural brands tend to lack familiar flavors. Our products combine authentic recipes with wholesome and easy-to-recognize ingredients which are ready in just 60 seconds. 

What were the biggest entrepreneurship lessons you learned from your experience — particularly as a Black founder in the CPG space? 

The most important entrepreneurship lesson that I would share is to trust your own instincts and internal voice. I think that particularly as Black founders it can be easy to second guess yourself or to be influenced by people that might not have the same experience or perspective as you.Obviously, it’s important to accept feedback and keep an open mind, but I also think that you have to be a little stubborn about the vision and values that underpin your business. 

What are the company’s plans in the next 5 years? Have you considered expanding to other ethnic minority groups? 

We are focused very squarely on Creole, Caribbean, and Latin American foods. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of great recipes and flavors to bring forward from this region. In the next 5 years, we will continue innovating this space with a goal to be the first brand that people think of when they want to make a meal from these regions. As far as immediate innovation, we [launched] the Entrée and Rice Seasoning Sauces on February 1, 2022. We’ve developed this new subcategory of seasonings after noticing a gap in the market to help consumers season their favorite home-cooked recipes, even when they are crunched for time. The globally inspired line includes 3 entrée seasoning sauces (Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, Peruvian Polla A La Brasa, and Mexican Pollo Asado) and 3 rice seasoning sauces (Mexican Red Rice, Caribbean Coconut Rice, and Arroz Con Gandules). We’re really excited about this one!