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House of Spices co-president on COVID-19 impact on business

Amrapali Soni, House of Spices Co-President, joined Yahoo Finance Live to disucss how business has been impacted by COVID-19 and her outlook into 2021.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ADAM SHAPIRO: For a lot of people there is nothing better than good spicy food. And with the holiday Diwali tomorrow, we decided to invite into the stream Amrapali Soni who is Co-President of House of Spices. And just to let you know, they are the oldest South Asian food company in the United States. And you're known mostly, though, by one of the brand names of your products, which is?

AMRAPALI SONI: LAXMI BRAND.

ADAM SHAPIRO: It's good to have you here. So, you know, [CLEARS THROAT] excuse me. I'm thinking back to my youth. We eat foods today that we never ate when I was a kid just 40 years ago, 30 years ago. So, yeah, no, 40 years ago, I'm that old.

So what has been the transformation? Because now today everything has all kinds of spices more than just salt and pepper. Can you hear me?

AMRAPALI SONI: Yeah, I can hear you.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So what has led to this transformation of all of us using, you know, new spices?

AMRAPALI SONI: That's a great question. So first of all, the population of South Asians has grown 81% in the last 10 years. So we've got a lot more shoppers out there, but the use of social media and digital platforms has made food universal.

It's allowed people to look for new things, try new things, they get recipes from different places. Things like Bullet coffee, people are putting ghee in their coffee. Turmeric is a very healthy Ayurvedic spice that the mass population is using now. So with new key trends and health benefits, a lot of the Indian spices are picking up into mainstream stores.

SEANA SMITH: You said in an aggressive business expansion, you have new branding marketing distribution efforts going on. How has COVID-19 impacted any of those initiatives?

AMRAPALI SONI: COVID-19 actually helped us. So it propelled us to work faster. So we've actually moved from removing a religious symbol on our logo to going to a more universally accepted agnostic symbol keeping the same elements. COVID-19 allowed us to, you know, look back and provide business continuity.

So we doubled down, we got inventory out of Asia knowing that this pandemic would be bigger than it was. We paid time and a half to all of our employees. And we took this time as an opportunity to invest in infrastructure, to invest in trucks to meet our customer demands. Because as you know, essential foods, there was a big uptick, and there was a lot of hoarding going on at the grocery stores.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Do you think that is now in the rear view mirror, or is the supply chain at risk of the new infection rates?

AMRAPALI SONI: So we actually did an internal survey today. So what we're finding is, the new norm is here, and people are used to it. So what we're finding is, there's not a sense of urgency like during the first wave when it was really abnormal to everybody.

So we're thinking that the uptick in turmeric, and ghee, and a lot of the spices that have these health properties, there's a big uptick. But as far as the double-downing and hoarding at people's homes, we think that is a sign of the past.

SEANA SMITH: How big of an uptick have you seen in your sales? Are there any numbers that you can share?

AMRAPALI SONI: Yes. So we're looking at a growth of-- we're looking between 25% and 50% in our business.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Do I buy these spices-- do I go to a grocery store to get it? Do I get it online? Where do I find the product?

AMRAPALI SONI: That's part of our expansion plan. So right now, you're looking at the ethnic market size is about $45 billion. It's expected to grow 10% in 2020. Then on top of that we're partnering-- with trends showing that South Asians are not only shopping in ethnic markets, they're shopping in big box retailers, they're shopping in grocery chains, so it allows us to partner with companies like Costco or a Wegmans. So you'll be able to find our South Asian food at those stores as well.

SEANA SMITH: That's a lot of exciting stuff that you're laying out, especially when you take into account some of the challenges that other brands are facing right now in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic. You haven't had to lay off any workers, you're expecting sales to jump you said 25% to 50%. What does that mean just for your workforce, then? Are you hiring right now? What's the rate of hiring do you think going forward?

AMRAPALI SONI: Yeah. So House of Spices employs 190 people across the country. We've hired 10% of our workforce in the last six months, and these are middle-management to upper-tier management, so we're pretty excited. With regard to expansion as well, you know, we are not only servicing the USA, but we are servicing the Canadian market. And there are other markets that have South Asians, so we're looking at this at a universal level, not just North America.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Just very quickly, for those of us who love the food that we buy but may want to try cooking this, is there a cookbook? Do you have a cookbook that we could get to-- how to use the different spices that are now available to us?

AMRAPALI SONI: So we personally don't have a cookbook, but there is one cookbook I can recommend. It's "Indian-ish." So it allows the Western culture to take the South Asian food and learn the techniques of how to do traditional Indian cooking at home in an easy way.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All right. I don't know if I'm ready for curry lox and bagels just yet, but I do love the curry lamb. Thank you so much for joining us.

AMRAPALI SONI: Thank you for having me.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All the best to you and the team.