A Hozon Homerun: What Restaurant Marketers Can Learn From Momofuku's Recent Collaborations

It’s not everyday that we see a group like Momofuku, Chef David Chang’s culinary empire, collaborating with fast casuals like Sweetgreen or Shake Shack. But thanks to its Momofuku Culinary Lab, the restaurant group has been slinging out two new substances with unique, never-before-tasted flavor profiles — hozon and bonji — that everyone wants a taste of. And we can’t blame them.

Sweetgreen's Nic Jammet (far left) and Nathaniel Ru (far right) with David Chang | Credit: Twitter

Sweetgreen's Nic Jammet (far left) and Nathaniel Ru (far right) with David Chang | Credit: Twitter

Earlier this month, it was announced that Sweetgreen would be teaming up with Momofuku to feature hozon in its June Salad of the Month (kale, roasted chicken, carrots, cucumbers, onion, sunflower sprouts, seeds, and basil, topped with sunflower hozon dressing). 

Not long after, Chang allegedly caused the longest line in Shake Shack history with his limited time (only 1,000 were made) “Momofuku Shrimp Stack,” which included Momofuku hozon sauce, Bibb lettuce, pickled onion, and salted cucumber. 

#GetYourHozonOn

“The lab became all things fermentation,” said Chang. “And we started to make miso out of pistachio instead of using soybean. Cut the pistachios, add a little bit of salt, add a little bit of goji, and ferment it. That’s basically it.” 

Kaizen Trading Company, a division of the culinary lab, was created “to showcase the results of our continued research,” notes the website. “KTC is committed to making premium products inspired by Japan and Korean that taste uniquely American.” 

While we cannot confirm (with scheduling conflicts, Momofuku’s rep could not get us in touch with the proper person to address these partnerships), perhaps that’s precisely why Momofuku decided to partner with both Sweetgreen and Shake Shack — to feature these new profiles in a light that is not singular to just ethnic cuisine, but also to American cuisine. To highlight its versatility. To fill the gap between something that just works across the board with different types of cuisine. This type of branding strategy is almost genius, and here’s why.

Local Partnerships: ‘Local’ has become a monstrous movement — in food & beverage, in marketing and social media, and just about any business strategy. People connect with local. Local aides transparency. And it certainly bridges community. It makes sense, then, that NYC-based Momofuku decided to temporarily partner with other NYC-based brands. (Sweetgreen expanded its New York locations earlier this year.)

Fast Casual LTOs: By teasing guests with opportunities to try hozon at an affordable price, more people will be exposed to Chang’s lab creation. Not only does this benefit the Momofuku brand as being top-of-mind and educational, but it draws people to an experience, which is what consumers nowadays are looking for. It also generates more revenue for the collaborators and puts all brands involved in a positive light, where diners can anticipate new options at their usual spot they otherwise may not be able to try.

Versatility: It makes sense that Sweetgreen, the stylish Salad Bar 3.0, would highlight hozon in its salad dressing with a tinge of summer for its June Salad. But housing hozon, in the same month, in a burger, shows the flavor’s versatility. By choosing two completely different routes to feature hozon, Momofuku is really driving its point home.

Classic Meets Modern: Even the fast casuals that Momofuku collaborated with is strategic — Shake Shack is part of one of the most historical NYC-based hospitality groups — Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group — with its first location being built in 2004. On the other side of the spectrum is Sweetgreen, a New Age concept launched by three Georgetown alums, known for not only its healthy options, but also its digital savvy. While both concepts cater to different generations, they’re both held in high regard to Millennials.

Kaizen Trading Company is providing a handful of notable restaurants with hozon, including ABC Kitchen, Alder, Estela, and all of the Momofuku concepts.