top of page

The latest news, trends, analysis, interviews and podcasts from the global food and beverage industry

FoodBev Media Logo
Access more as a FoodBev subscriber

Sign up to FoodBev and unlock more insights from the international food and beverage industry. Subscribers have access to webinars, newsletters, publications and more...

MENA founders are using heritage to inspire culinary innovation in the US
Guest contributor

Guest contributor

5 June 2024

MENA founders are using heritage to inspire culinary innovation in the US

In an industry where diversity is key, MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) food and beverage business founders are carving out their niche in the global market. Despite being underrepresented, these entrepreneurs are utilising their heritage to innovate in the CPG industry. This feature highlights their stories, shedding light on their cultural influences and entrepreneurial journeys, from authentic labneh to Tunisian-inspired delicacies, and their rising popularity in countries like the US.

Over the past two years, 54% of company founders were white men and 5.5% were white women. That leaves 40% for Middle Eastern/Arab, Black/African, Hispanic/Latino, East Asian and South Asian founders. Middle Eastern/Arab founders are the least represented group of founders (source: Carta).

Here, we share stories from a group of MENA founders in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space who are using their heritage to inspire new products and bring innovation to the US market. Furthermore, they provide insight into the challenges they face as MENA founders and marketing products that are unfamiliar or new to consumers.

“Being Lebanese, labneh has always been a staple in my diet. Upon moving to the US in 2020, I struggled to find authentic labneh in grocery stores, often encountering disappointment in the taste and added preservatives. This is when I decided that America deserves a real, healthy labneh. In 2023, Yaza launched the first authentic Plain Labneh in the market with only two ingredients: cultured milk and salt. Yaza also launched the first flavoured labneh: Za’atar & Olive Oil – the most traditional way to eat labneh, and Spicy Chili – a flavour that is approachable for new consumers.

After lots of positive feedback, Yaza decided to launch another brand new flavour: Roasted Garlic & Mint. Educating the consumer is essential for us, which is why in addition to showing the product on our sustainable packaging, we host in-store demos and collaborate with influencers on social media. Something I treasure about America is the diversity, and being able to share a product that is inspired by my heritage is something very special to me.”


“Being MENA founders has definitely had its share of challenges but it’s also been an incredibly rewarding journey. One of the biggest obstacles we have faced is breaking through cultural stereotypes and misconceptions about the Middle East, specifically Afghanistan. We’ve turned that into an opportunity to showcase the beauty and authenticity of our heritage through Maazah. Infusing our products with our cultural elements and flavours has been key. It’s not just about selling something; it’s about offering a piece of our culture to the world. We love seeing how it resonates with consumers – it is truly heartwarming.

However, marketing these unique flavours to US consumers has been an adventure in itself. It’s a blend of storytelling and education. When we talk about the traditions and flavours of our foods, we’re really just sharing a piece of our family’s story. For our parents, immigrants chasing the American dream, it’s about more than just success. It’s about resilience and opportunity. Their journey has inspired us to work hard and make a difference.

And you know what’s really exciting? The growing appreciation for diverse culinary traditions. As the market expands, so does the opportunity for us MENA founders to showcase the richness of our cuisine and contribute to its global popularity. Throughout this entrepreneurial roller coaster, our family has been our rock. Their values of hospitality, craftsmanship and innovation have guided us every step of the way. And, as MENA founders, we couldn’t be more proud to share our culture with the world, one delicious bite at a time.”


“‘Tunisian’ doesn’t usually ring a bell in people’s minds because most folks aren’t familiar with it culturally or geographically. That was always our biggest challenge but also the entire point of launching Zwïta, named after our maternal great-grandmother. As first-generation Tunisian-Americans, we wanted to challenge the mainstream narrative around our ancestral foods, which have recently become buzzy and trendy, and bridge the cultural gap between our two homes.

Zwïta is our attempt to make authentic Tunisian food mainstream while paying homage to its cultural roots. We jumped into an extremely competitive industry pretty naïvely but have grown so much by overcoming its many challenges and iterating one step at a time. Our American dream is pursuing what we believe in without compromising on cultural integrity or quality. Zwïta is a personal challenge and a quest to highlight what people have been missing out on: the real deal.”


“Of course, like most countries, this idea of food authenticity varies based on region and family, and for us, that means Beirut. It’s always been difficult to find high-quality packaged toum. Having made toum all my life with my mom and teta, and noticing a gap in the market, we set out to bring the authentic flavor of Lebanese toum to households across America. And yes, we call it toum! Not just garlic dip or garlic paste – we call it toum to pay homage to Lebanese cuisine. As we like to say, we didn’t create toum, toum created us!

And while the name may be mostly unfamiliar to the American consumer, the flavour is welcoming and familiar to the American palate and product tasting is key to attracting the consumer base. Connecting the flavours of Lebanon and the Middle East with the American consumer is what drives us, as is connecting the past and present. And there’s no better way to do this than through my family recipe toum!”

The global ethnic food market is projected to reach a market size of $88+ billion by 2028 from $45+ billion in 2021. North America is expected to hold a large share of the growth (Source: Knowledge Sourcing). With increased globalisation, cultural influence remains prominent as consumers seek new food and drinks. These founders hope that their stories inspire consumers to eat globally, and for other future founders to embrace their culture and share it with the world.

bottom of page