How Three Niche Food Companies Made It Big


To try to wow consumers, some entrepreneurs are giving their food products an ethnic twist by sprinkling in ancient spices. They’re adding everything from ginger and turmeric to more exotic spices like Shichimi (Japanese seven-flavor chili) to tickle the taste buds.

“Americans love flavorful foods,” says Tammy Katz, chief executive at Katz Marketing Solutions, a food and beverage marketing consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio. In addition, “nutritionally conscious consumers are increasingly aware of the health benefits of these spices.”

Because spices add flavor, there’s no need to overload food with sugar or salt. And some spices like ginger and turmeric are thought to benefit digestion and decrease inflammation, respectively, Katz says. Here are three companies that are growing their businesses by spicing up their product lines:

Compartes Chocolatier

Product: Spice-infused chocolates, including ginger, shichimi, lemongrass and more

Founder: Jonathan Grahm

After buying out his parents’ interest in Compartes Chocolate in 2008, Jonathan Grahm set out to spice things up and make his own mark. My parents’ mentality “was ‘lets keep it the same.’ There was a lot of friction between us,” the 28-year-old says.

Over the past four years, he has made Asian and Latin American spices like habanero (paired with pineapple), ginger (paired with wasabi) and shichimi (paired with apricot) part of the company’s chocolate selection. Among the fans of the Los Angeles-based chocolatier’s spice-infused offerings are local A-listers like Heidi Klum and Jennifer Garner.

Keeping up with demand without compromising quality has been challenging for this third-generation chocolatier. Because Compartes chocolates are handmade with colorful designs on the outside, it’s tough to speed up production. To boost capacity, the company moved to a bigger chocolate factory this year, and by the end of the year, Grahm hopes to expand to 20 employees from the current seven. Earlier this year, he began selling the spicy treats in Tokyo, and he plans to expand across the U.S. in the next few months.

To keep his product line growing, Grahm is constantly researching surprising but tasty combinations. He visits L.A.’s ethnic enclaves, including Persian and Japanese neighborhoods, and looks for new ingredients when he travels abroad. Some regular customers even bring Grahm spices to incorporate in the special edition batches that he produces for a limited time. Temporary offerings with exotic spices like grains of paradise and ghost pepper have been a hit.

Grahm expect sales to over to double over the next year as he expands his offerings and works with new retailers.

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