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Virtual grocery shopping became more popular during the pandemic lockdowns, and Weee, a startup focused on Asian grocery delivery, was no exception.
Its founder, Larry Liu, came to the U.S. from China as a young engineer nearly two decades ago. He said he started the company because he was dissatisfied with the selection available from local Asian grocery stores and by long it took to reach them from his home.
He spoke with The Associated Press about how the pandemic affected grocery delivery, the company’s expansion goals after it recently raised over $300 million and how Weee’s customers saw the pandemic coming long before other Americans. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
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Q: Why did you start Weee?
A: In the Bay Area where I live, it took me 25 minutes to get to the closest Chinese store, and it took us two minutes to get to a mainstream supermarket. Asian markets were relatively harder to get access to, and also the shopping experience is not great. They’re usually very crowded, and the assortment is usually pretty old. A lot of the (brands) were actually from the 80s, when most of the stores were set up in this country.
Q: What was the effect of the coronavirus pandemic?
A: We have a lot of Chinese immigrant customers, so the pandemic actually impacted our customers psychologically before everybody.
Q: What was that psychological effect?
A: In China, the shutdown of Wuhan happened in mid-January. At that time a regular American wouldn’t think much about the pandemic. But as Chinese immigrants started to see that in China, they started to be more cautious and started to buy more online. The first U.S. case was in Seattle (in January). Immigrant communities just took that a lot more seriously than the general public. We’re seeing demand growing very rapidly in February. In early February we started to require our employees to wear masks and take everybody’s temperature every day.
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