May 16, 2024

World’s #1 Restaurant Shuts Down, and Re-Emerges in the Grocery Store Pantry Aisle

Noma Hits US Shelves

Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant, created by Danish Chef René Redzepi (@reneredzepinoma), has officially launched its CPG product brand, under the name “Noma Projects”,  in April 2024, reflecting a growing trend of restaurants capitalizing on their brand value, culinary fame and community of fans to elbow into the crowded CPG space. For context, Noma was voted the best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and again in 2021 by the organization The World’s 50 Best Restaurants  

Noma Projects (@nomaprojects)  is launching in the US with three initial products: Mushroom Garum, Dashi RDX, and Corn Yuzu Hot Sauce.

Why is this happening?

Officially, Noma closed its doors in 2023 due to an unsustainable restaurant model and shifted its business to pursue its CPG program. Fine dining is extremely challenging to sustain due to several factors. First, the restaurant industry is marked by minimal profit margins and escalating costs, thanks to quickly rising rents in cities around the world, energy and other overhead costs, and food being an unstable and expensive product. Even wildly popular restaurants, where reservations seem impossible, are operating on razor thin margins. Second, grueling conditions burnout staff quickly. At fine dining restaurants like Noma, chefs work 18 hour days for minimum wage (or less).  Elite Chefs like Chef René Redzepi are creative geniuses, but also demanding employers and extreme perfectionists. For example, one intern told the New York Times of the long hours they spent constructing beetles out of fruit leather with tweezers. Third, constant demand to meet clients’ constantly shifting expectations for novelty, creativity and taste makes for a tumultuous and difficult to predict offering and business model. Therefore it makes sense for restaurants to take advantage of their fame and fans to launch potentially lucrative CPG brands.

Noma is not unique. David Chang’s (@davidchang) renowned Momofuku restaurant group restructured its model in 2023. Chang closed several highly regarded yet closing cash-burning restaurants in NYC and reallocated funds to a CPG portfolio. Momofuku raised $17.5 million to expand its venture, Momofuku Good (@momofukugoods), offering pantry staples available at major retailers such as Target and Whole Foods.

Carbone (the home of the world's most viral pasta, its rigatoni vodka) launched the retail-focused subsidiary Carbone Fine Foods (@carbonefinefood)  under the leadership of Eric Skae, who previously led Rao’s Specialty Food Group. Carbone currently sells sauces on Amazon and through approximately 12,000 retailers across the country.

 Israeli super chef Michael Solomonov’s (@mikesolomonov) , behind the legendary Philly Zahav (@zahavrestaurant) , launched a line of hummus (@zahavfoods)  now available in Whole Foods across the east coast. This trend is also reflected by  MiLa dumplings (@eat.mila) , Vista Hermosa (@vistahermosaproducts)) frozen burritos, and Little Sesame hummus (@eatlittlesesame)

As explained by Fast Company, “the future of restaurants runs through the grocery store.” This strategy allows chefs and restaurants to leverage their hard-earned fame and expand beyond the limitations of a brick and mortar location.

Rao’s is the blueprint for the increasing number of renowned restaurants that are diversifying their offerings by producing pantry staples and frozen foods. The iconic and exclusive East Harlem Restaurant’s retail brand was purchased by Campbells for $2.7B.

Who’s The Community?

Noma’s community is composed of foodies, who admire the restaurant’s innovative cooking, industry insiders, luxury obsessors, and opulent travelers. Every dish is a work of art and post-worthy. Food bloggers eagerly share their Noma experience course by course and bite by bite. Noma posts are viewed by foodies around the world. Some compare notes and thoughts on their meal and almost all gaze longingly at dishes like the iconic Grilled Danish black lobster brochette with roses or duck feet candies. Noma (@nomacph) has over 1 million instagram followers and shortly after launching, Noma Projects already has 337,000 followers. Noma’ combined account size would match that of an American “macro influencer.” 

Why Does This Matter?

Restaurants and their communities of fans are  launchpads for new CPG products. When examined through the prism of the creator economy, Chefs are skilled creators and restaurants serve as their venue to build brand equity and gather market feedback

The products of renowned restaurants launch with high brand equity and networks of industry connections that can be leveraged for distribution as well as promotion, giving these start-ups a competitive advantage over their unaffiliated competitors. Further for restaurants, social media followers represent a community of fans that can be marketed to leverage for commerce. Consumers will neutrally purchase the products when they feel a personal connection.

If a consumer has had the privilege of dining at Noma, purchasing a Noma Projects product, is a way to relive that experience and elevate their home dining experience. If a consumer has dreamed of trying Noma, (like myself), purchasing a Noma projects item is an accessible way to experience Noma. Either way, Noma’s community will drive commerce.