Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Clorox is pushing refillable cleaning supplies, Reba McEntire is investing in the revival of her hometown, and the founder of Fly by Jing overcame early rejection. Happy Tuesday!
- Flying high. When Jing Gao launched her brand Fly by Jing in 2018, she only saw two or three Asian food brands on American grocery store shelves. Fly by Jing, which sells pantry products and frozen dumplings but is best known for its Sichuan chili crisp, has been joined by other Asian-owned and Asian-influenced food brands like Omsom in the five years since.
But the growth of this subset of the consumer packaged goods category can be credited to the brands and their founders—not to venture capitalists, Gao says. “Brands like ours have worked really hard to create that opportunity, from nothing and without any support,” she says.
Gao launched Fly by Jing through a Kickstarter, raising $120,000, and says she was rejected by every investor she spoke to until she'd grown the brand 20x. Today her products are sold in 4,000 retail stores—Costco, Target, Wegmans, Whole Foods—with eyes on Kroger and Albertsons. The company has about 20 employees.
Earlier this month, the startup announced it had raised $12 million in Series B funding—a far cry from its Kickstarter days. But that funding is from the private equity industry—Prelude Growth Partners and Pendulum—rather than venture capital firms. Gao, who worked for Procter & Gamble and Blackberry before she pivoted to food, was skeptical of bringing on VC funding—and the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank only reinforced her perspective.
“With [consumer packaged goods] and food businesses, it doesn’t make sense to treat it like a venture-backed tech company,” she says. “It just doesn’t seem sustainable.” Instead, she hopes to “learn how to build a fundamentally strong business, where you make a product, sell it for a profit, and don’t make a loss in trying to sell your product.”
While Fly by Jing has become a well-known brand among some consumers, Gao says there’s much further to go. “The vast majority of Americans have still never tried [chili crisp],” she says. “There’s a lot of work to do to continue our mission to evolve culture through taste.”
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