Last month, husband and wife team, Fred and Perteet Spencer launched AYO Foods, a West African line of frozen meals, in 50 Whole Foods locations across Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma as well as Green Grocer located in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. AYO, which is West African for joy, is what Perteet calls a “labor of love” and is something that has been in the works for two years. Perteet says, “AYO Foods was born out of a personal thing. I grew up eating this food and have such positive memories associated with it in my life. It’s really just us sharing the love in our family, as we share our family recipes with the world. And what’s great is my husband Fred is my partner in this, so it truly is a family affair all around.”
The meals included in the AYO Foods line include the Cassava Leaf Stew, Jollof Rice, and Egusi Melon Soup, three of the most well-known recipes in Africa. “One thing that was incredibly important to us is that we protect the process. So as you think about the kind of dishes you cook, buying the ingredients and then taking hours to get the right flavors in place, we are replicating that, and it’s that same experience at scale for ease at home”, says Perteet. Adding, “It’s a source of pride for us to bring these three dishes and assist in the widespread awareness and enjoyment of these recipes that are so near to our hearts.”
Launching AYO came with its fair share of obstacles for Fred and Perteet, as they were faced with finding the right buyers and partners who shared in their vision and were aligned with their platform. In addition to releasing their line in the middle of a global pandemic. Perteet said, “That certainly makes us evaluate everything as we think about how people may not be in a position to gain awareness of and try our products. It’s been a tough year all around for everyone, and we are so grateful that our network has supported us throughout this entire journey.” “We’ve had an amazing outpouring of support from people who are excited about what we’re doing, and so we’re hopeful that despite the challenging circumstances, we’re bringing some Joy to our customers,” Perteet followed up with.
When partnering with Whole Foods, Perteet said that they came on board and “saw the central vision.” “Whole Foods has just been a great partner. It’s one thing to have a passion, but having a willing partner to help you realize something that hasn’t been done before is really, really exciting. And I think it’s because of not only the long-term potential of our brand but the platform as well”, she said.
As for what she wants people to know about AYO Foods, Perteet says, “I think the most important thing for people to know is that, as I said before, this is really a labor of love for us that represents a huge opportunity to represent West African food. We make sure that not only are our ingredients of the highest quality, but we’re also producing something that aligns with our values. My husband and I take great, great pride in this, and we’re both pretty relentless.”
Drawing inspiration from their seven and nine-year-old daughters and how they push them to think of how to serve their communities better, Fred and Perteet feel that the future of AYO Foods is endless. In addition to having a broad retail expansion, they hope to extend their impact beyond food. “We see tremendous potential to reinvest in many of the countries that inspired us. But to do that, we have to build a scalable business model by getting the business to a size where we can invest in a plant to support our products as well as a sustainable supply chain in Africa where we’re getting many of our greens”, says Perteet.
“You know we do feel like we’re putting a bit of ourselves out there, and we’re just really grateful that people are honoring that. I think what’s the most rewarding is when our customers tell us about their connection to the food and some happy memory they have”, Perteet said. Adding, “I read a comment this morning from someone saying that they haven’t tried these recipes before and are so excited to repurchase it. And it’s comments like that that make me realize how amazing it is when you put so much of yourself into something and just seeing it received in such a positive way.”
For information on AYO Foods, visit https://ayo-foods.com/.
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.