Mama O's Premium Kimchi: Here's What Happened After Shark Tank

Mama O's Premium Kimchi was born in 2009 out of sheer necessity. As the story goes, founder Kheedim Oh couldn't find any good kimchi in markets around his home in New York City that matched up to his Korean mom's version, so he started taking the bus all the way to Washington, D.C. where his parents lived to bring back a cooler full of the homemade staple. That eventually turned into kimchi-making 101 lessons, and as Oh perfected the family recipe, he started sharing jars with others. Anyone who tasted the high-quality kimchi thought he should try and sell it. 

That's exactly how Oh began his business and wound up on "Shark Tank" in October 2022, alongside Mama O herself (Myung Oh). The duo appeared on Season 14, Episode 3 of the show, where they asked the sharks for $250,000 in exchange for 10% equity of the company. Pitched as an "ancient food with modern health benefits," Oh began his presentation explaining that the high-quality ingredients, "authentic Korean mom recipe," packaging designed for freshness, and the first ever kimchi-making kit all set Mama O's apart from other products on the market — and had the sales figures to prove it.

The 'Shark Tank' pitch for Mama O's Premium Kimchi

When Mama O's Premium Kimchi appeared on "Shark Tank" in 2022, founder Kheedim Oh shared that, "after starting with $50 and a skateboard," the company's revenue in 2021 had topped $815,000 with $1 million in sales projected for 2023. The low cost point for the products helped, too. As Oh said, a bag of his kimchi retails for $8.99 and costs $2.65 to make, while the company's convenient kimchi kits (reducing the time needed to make homemade versions from 3 hours to 10 minutes) cost $8.25 to produce and are sold wholesale for $20 — equating to a profit margin of 25%.

Though Mama O's Premium Kimchi started humbly in 2009, by the time it appeared on "Shark Tank" a decade-plus later, it was already stocked nationwide in Whole Foods and Williams Sonoma locations where it has tapped into consumers' increasing appetite for fermented foods in the U.S. Not only are fermented products like kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, and fish sauce packed with tantalizing, tangy quality, they also fit with a modern-day focus on gut health since they're full of healthy bacteria that support digestive systems (per American Heart Association).

Even with the promising outlook for Mama O's Premium Kimchi, however, the sharks weren't totally convinced — which may have been partly because only one of them had ever really tasted kimchi before.

How the sharks reacted to Mama O's

After hearing Kheedim Oh's pitch, the first shark to voice an opinion was Kevin O'Leary who was concerned about how much education it would take to get people to try the international product and bowed out of any deal. Mark Cuban also questioned the effectiveness of working with the small family team given that didn't have any employees, and he too was out. And, while Lori Greiner and Kendra Scott both loved the story of Mama O's, they didn't feel like it was a good investment for their own portfolios. That left Daymond John, but even after Mama O made a plea not just for capital, but also guidance, John ultimately decided not to invest.

"I was generally just surprised about the lack of general knowledge or interest in fermented foods," company founder Kheedim Oh told The Fermentation Association (a group for which he's an Advisory Board member), about appearing on the show. However, the end result is it did inspire Oh to think of the future of the company, also telling TFA, "The show has made my mission even stronger to help people eat a more Korean diet with kimchi being an important part of it."

What happened to Mama O's Premium Kimchi after 'Shark Tank'?

Despite not receiving a deal on "Shark Tank," Mama O's Premium Kimchi has stayed in the game in the year since. The company received significant exposure just from appearing on the show, the newfound popularity being reflected in sales, more followers on social media, and interest from other companies. Entrepreneurs and fans of the product (including even model Bella Hadid) were surprised the sharks didn't offer a deal. 

However, company founder Kheedim Oh did admit to The Fermentation Advisory Board that the pitch had some road bumps — he mistakenly gave the panel samples of the extra spicy version instead of a milder flavor, and admits he didn't respond to questions in the moment as eloquently as he would have liked.

He told TFA, "Honestly, I thought they would be more hip to what is actually going on in the world and the wave that fermented foods is having [sic]." Indeed, fermented foods are having a culinary moment. In 2020 alone, kimchi sales were growing at a rate of 90% and the global kimchi market worth around $3.6 billion.

Today, Mama O's remains in business, and its products are available on the official website as well as third-party retailers like Amazon, Whole Foods, and Walmart. Mama O's Premium Kimchi is also available at many smaller stores and is sourced by a number of restaurants. In addition to the traditional kimchi product, Mama O's also sells kimchi pastes to quickly make a batch of your own, as well as signature kimchi kits if you are starting from square one, plus dehydrated kimchi, and a savory "kimchili" hot sauce. 

What does Mama O's have planned for the future?

Kheedim Oh is still super focused on growing his company Mama O's Premium Kimchi and spreading the gospel of kimchi at his annual Kimchipalooza event. Oh has said he wants to deepen his reach in restaurants, especially after the hit they took during the pandemic. More broadly, he believes in the probiotic benefits of kimchi and a balanced traditional Korean diet, which includes lots of vegetables, fish, and legumes. Oh told The Fermentation Association, "I'm really trying to make things that people need. And do a lot of education. Ultimately my goal is to change how Americans eat and encourage them to eat more like Korean people."

Oh continues to run his business with the same sense of integrity and attention to quality, telling The Fermentation Association, "I'm blessed to be able to do something I enjoy, that's positive, that's good for people, that helps people. Ultimately, that's what I'm doing: helping people." It looks like the sharks may have missed the mark, but Mama O's Premium Kimchi is going to be just fine.