Food & Drink

Occo Wants To Reinvigorate Your Spice Rack

The new spice brand is focused on far-reaching spices packaged in recyclable materials.

occo spice brand blends
Photo by Peter Garritano

Every person’s spice rack is different. Whether you’re only stock with simplicities—salt, pepper, garlic, and onion powder—or you always have a rainbow of turmeric, paprika, and coriander within your reach, a spice rack can be reflective of one’s own approach to cooking. 

What remains the same, however, is that everyone has a dusty old spice jar with muted color, scents, and flavor crammed somewhere in the back of the pantry. Maybe it’s dried dill from that one time you attempted a home-pickling project, or perhaps a not-so-warm Chinese five spice jar from that one Taiwanese recipe you tried. Whatever the case, you either have to toss the spices or leave them to continue to gather dust for years to come.

Occo, a spice brand that specializes in recyclable pods of pre portioned flavor, is looking to change the way we think about and use spices. Co-founder Connie Wang noticed that portions of ingredients within her local grocery store were getting smaller—she could now buy half-a-dozen eggs, smaller bottles of oil, and single-serving bundles of produce, which accommodated her tiny New York City kitchen. “There should be like a trial size for everything you can find in the grocery store,” she laughs. 

But what she couldn’t find were smaller servings of spices. “We really think of ourselves as our first target customer,” she explains. “Wanting to try a new recipe, go into the grocery store, and realizing you had to buy a million full-size jars—even if you only wanted to make one thing one time—just didn't make sense.”

So Wang and her cofounder Lisa Carson, with their backgrounds in product design and marketing, got to work creating Occo. The name comes from the Italian word abbiocco, which roughly translates to food coma. It’s something the pair hope to provide for future homecooks in cluttered kitchens just looking for a way to experience new spices. Because each pod of spices—which arrive in half-teaspoon servings—is sealed, the spices remain fresh indefinitely. 

As product designers with marketing and public relations backgrounds, impeccable design and thoughtful packaging was also important to the two founders. “Design wise, the O’s and C’s [of Occo] evoke the pods—we're really happy with it,” Wang says.

The pods of spices are made from aluminum and can be tossed into cans of soda and easily recycled. “It turns out that aluminum foil is the hottest commodity in the recovered materials industry and has the highest rate of recyclability because cans are actually worth money,” Wang explains. The aluminum pods are grouped into eight and placed into cardboard “cards” that look akin to birthday cards or tiny books. The cards are either sorted by simply by spice—so if you’re just looking for straight garlic powder, you’d pick a spice card—or by recipe.

Occo has partnered with chefs, including Top Chef winner Mei Lin and runner-up Nina Compton, to come up with recipe cards that include spices and provide explanations on how to conquer a specific dish. For example, the gooey kimchi mac and cheese recipe card—developed by Chef Deuki Hong—contains gochugaru, turmeric, and garlic powder and a recipe to  download. Other available recipe cards include kebabs, a Carribean coconut risotto, and citrus chicken. “We are not chefs ourselves, so we had to find chefs to partner with to make the recipe cards,” Wang explains. “We just [knew] that we wanted to curate stuff that we want to eat.”

“There should be like a trial size for everything you can find in the grocery store."

Occo currently works with six chefs from an array of backgrounds and has created a revenue sharing program so chefs who develop recipes and curate spices for Occo receive compensation for their contributions. It’s not a new model; the starter sauce brand, Omsom, also provides a percentage of its sales to their chef partners. 

“During the pandemic, chefs had to move so quickly to try to find revenue and support their businesses,” Wang says. “And they create all of this IP, whether it's like cookbooks or they make recipes, and they’re driving people into grocery stores to pay money for things and the grocery stores make all of that money. It just was like, ‘Why don’t the creators get to have a cut of that?’” 

Of course, not everyone who uses Occo is as experienced as these chefs. So spice cards are combined and curated to create decks, which consist of four to 16 selected spices. Whether you’re opting for American Basics 101—which has thyme, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and more—or the Chile Sampler for eight different chili powders with varying levels of heat, Occo can jumpstart  any home pantry. The brand also allows consumers to go as deep as they’d like. If a customer is  interested in four different types of cinnamon, the option is available. But so is the option to just purchase more familiarized dried herbs. 

At the end of the day, Occo’s mission is to serve as a resource to declutter kitchens, reduce plastic waste, and get more people excited about spices and cooking. 

“We want to be the company that helps people get exactly what they want when it comes to cooking ingredients and trying new things at home—even just for home chef consumers being able to get a half teaspoon of piri piri chili for that one recipe,” Wang says. “And if you really like the spices, great. Go and buy the full jar.”

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Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn
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