This Brand Is Proving That Oatmeal Isn’t Boring
Yishi Foods creates flavors like matcha latte, taro bubble tea, and black sesame.
Unbeknownst to her, Lin Jiang’s dreams of entrepreneurship began when she was a girl growing up in Qingdao, a coastal city in China known for its beer. Each morning, Jiang’s mother would prepare her a hearty, hot cereal for breakfast composed of nutty black sesame seeds.
Decades later, the black sesame cereal would become the inspiration for Jiang’s Asian-inspired oatmeal brand, Yishi Foods.
“I worked in research and analytics for a consulting group and, in the office, I would always eat oatmeal,” Jiang explains. The options, however, were lackluster: Jiang could choose between cinnamon apple, which was fragrant but repetitive, or brown sugar, which was too sweet for her liking. “I just wished there was better oatmeal—and I thought of my mom’s black sesame cereal.”
Jiang decided to start bringing her own oatmeal into work, loaded with black sesame seeds as a nod to her childhood favorite. Her coworkers were intrigued by her dark-hued breakfasts and the nutty aroma, and all it took was one taste to be hooked. One of her coworkers enjoyed her oatmeal so much that they began asking to buy their own bowls. Suggestions also began to roll in—could Jiang possibly prepare an oatmeal made with taro, inspired by a coworker’s infatuation with taro milk tea?
The answer is yes. Jiang, who is currently an MBA candidate at the University of Chicago, realized there was a void in the oatmeal market that she could fill. “A lot of times in business school, for entrepreneurship, everyone is talking about identifying a market problem—and fixing the problem,” Jiang explains. “So we’re trying to fill a gap, while also bringing more customers into this category.”
Yishi Foods first launched in 2019, under its retired name, Crave Natural. Alongside spotlighting Asian ingredients and flavors, it was important to Jiang to feature organic, plant-based ingredients high in protein and fiber and without all the added sugar. She even sought out advice from a fellow grad school classmate with a registered dietitian background while perfecting her recipes, some of which went through over 50 iterations before Jiang settled on her formula.
As Jiang’s business expanded, she decided for a name change, settling on the word Yishi, which translates to ritual in Chinese. “The story and brand spirit I’m trying to tell is that food, especially eating healthy food, is a really special, almost ceremonious, event,” Jiang says. She describes her own breakfast ritual—feeling at peace with music and a steaming bowl of oatmeal before diving into the chaos of the day. “Breakfast is a ceremony that needs celebration.”
There are now five flavors of oatmeal to choose from at Yishi Foods: toasted black sesame, taro bubble tea, matcha latte, red bean berry, and sweet osmanthus with turmeric and almonds. Preparing the oatmeal is as easy as microwaving, pouring hot water over a bowl and covering, or combining a milk of choice for overnight oats. The products can be purchased online or found at Whole Foods and 99 Ranch markets nationwide.
Jiang already has new flavors in the works, but won’t share exactly what is up her sleeve. “It may not be oatmeal,” she hints, but rules out congee—for now. “When we look at how our products are positioning the market, we want to have our unique positioning, which is Asian-inspired flavors. So while staying true to that, the mission is to introduce these flavors to American consumers.”
Though Jiang’s mom was the inspiration behind her first oatmeal recipe, she discouraged these entrepreneurial dreams at first, unaware of how impactful her black sesame cereal would be on her daughter’s life. “She was skeptical and wanted me to find a job,” Jiang explains. “But now, the brand is growing very quickly and I can feel my mom is proud that I’m sharing her story. Her eyes are sparkling.”