Fans are upset after investors on Shark Tank turned down a deal on Mama O’s Premium Kimchi. The exposure, though, netted some big sales for the Brooklyn-based fermentation brand.
Founder Kheedhim Oh and his mom Myung Oh appeared on the show’s 14th season, which aired in October. Oh pitched an investment of $250,000 for 10% equity in the company. But none of the five sharks – four who had surprisingly never tasted kimchi – took the deal. Though kimchi is exploding in popularity in the U.S. (sales increased 90% last year), it illustrates that education is still needed for kimchi to achieve mainstream acceptance in the American market.
“Honestly, I thought they would be more hip to what is actually going on in the world and the wave that fermented foods is having,” Kheedim (a TFA Advisory Board member) said in an interview with TFA. “I was generally just surprised about the lack of general knowledge or interest in fermented foods. The show has made my mission even stronger to help people eat a more Korean diet with kimchi being an important part of it.”
Despite their rejection of the first fermented food to appear on the show, Kheedim said Mama O’s received a nice sales bump from the show. After the show aired, Mama O’s netted four months of business sales in seven days. There was another bump in sales after supermodel Bella Hadid shared on Instagram stories how disappointed she was that the sharks passed on Mama O’s.
“I’m very grateful to Shark Tank because it was a great opportunity to help demystify making kimchi at home using the Mama O’s Homemade Kimchi Kit,” he added.
On the segment, Kheedhim shared his story of beginning the Mama O’s brand with just $50 and a skateboard. Today, Mama O’s sells various kimchi flavors, kimchi paste, kimchi sauce and the make-your-own kimchi kit. Eight years since launching, Kheedim has never used outside investors, always putting his own profits back into the business. Sales were $815,000 in 2021 and will reach an estimated $1 million in 2022. The sharks were impressed with the profits. It costs the company $2.65 a bag to make the kimchi, but it retails for $8.99. The wholesale kits cost $8.25 to make, but sell for $20.
Kheedim – who had to sign an NDA so can’t provide many details about the process – told TFA that he spent months perfecting the pitch, but the live Q&A did not go as smoothly as he wanted. He accidentally handed out his Super Spicy kimchi variety for sampling instead of the classic, milder flavor. He was planning to use the money to hire a production manager, increase broker coverage and fund the brand’s move this month to a larger production space in Queens, New York.
Still, the show has been excellent exposure for Mama O’s. In addition to the sales bump, Mama O’s followers on social media increased and individuals and companies continue to reach out to Kheedim with business opportunities.
During the episode, Kheedim told the sharks how “kimchi is a health food but more importantly it tastes incredible and not just with Korean food either” like hamburgers, hot dogs and mac and cheese.
“What’s makes our kimchi the best is our authentic korean mom recipe,” Kheedim told the sharks.
Kheedim’s mom, Myung, 81, was a fan favorite. She shared how kimchi is an ancient superfood from korea, “naturally fermented and it is full of probiotics.” She also detailed how proud she is of her son, for being an “honest, hardworking entrepreneur who is passionate about kimchi.”
Ultimately, the sharks shared different reasons for not investing. Mark Cuban said he’s concerned Kheedim has been investing his own money back into the company. Lori Greiner says she loves kimchi but found Mama O’s “not investable.” Kevin O’Leary said, though he sees kimchi thriving in the health food space, “the hardest part of this is going to get people to actually try it.” Daymond John admitted he wasn’t “obsessed” with kimchi. Kendra Scott said she didn’t know what kimchi was.
Fans were not pleased. They took to social media to voice their opinion.
“Many entrepreneurs come and go, but only some define the season. What a positive spirit to the pitch. Wishing you all the success.” @umang.thareja
“You should have got the money. They are fools!” @lifebettergreen
“Sharks made a HUGE mistake by not investing. More people in America just need education on kimchi. You guys are going to kill it. Mama O was amazing.” @s.andersn
The day after airing, Kheedim made an Instagram post with the Anthony Bourdain quote: “Americans want kimchi. They want it on their hamburgers. It’s like when Americans started eating sushi. A huge tectonic shift. That funk. That corruption of the flesh. That’s exactly the flavor zone that we are all heading towards.”
Of note: in 2018 during the show’s second season, the sharks did invest in the Kombucha Shop, a DIY kombucha-making kit.