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Black-owned Frozen Food Company: Ayo Foods

 
 

Husband and wife duo, Perteet and Fred Spencer bring flavor back into frozen food. Their company, Ayo Foods, provides stores with authentic West African Cuisine. Frozen food has come a long way from TV dinners. The growing innovation in this industry has made room for diversity among the origins of food and ingredients. “We found an opportunity to bring a bit of ourselves to the aisle, to disrupt the space in a different way that hadn’t been done before,” said Perteet.


Food is the Spencer family’s love language. Fred and Perteet, who were originally next-door neighbors in college, formed a bond that was fostered by different dishes. “Thinking back to Fred and my earlier connection—and like I said we met in college and did not have a budget to travel extensively or anything like that—for us, exploration and food have always been a way to explore the world when we didn’t have the means to do that,” she continued.

 
 

To them, Ayo is more than a typical 9-5 job because of their combined enthusiasm for growing the brand. Their passion for food and maintaining a strong relationship with each other makes their business successful. “We’ve been together for so long because we have very similar values and I think we bring that to the office every day at Ayo, and that is what has made it so fun to go to work every day and do it with your best friend at your side.”


According to Fred, they’ve received a lot of love from the community due to everyone’s allyship and support of Black-owned businesses. Due to a recent partnership, Ayo Foods will now be available in 50 Whole Food locations in the U.S. This has catapulted the brand to a whole new level. Seeing their late nights and early mornings of hard work as a tangible item on the shelves is an incredible feeling for the pair. “I would say it's surreal too when you're in the grocery store and you're standing right next to a person and you see someone grab your item, and you’re standing there like, ‘oh that’s mine,’ but you don’t say anything. That feeling, at first, it's another sale, and then it's like she doesn’t even know that I’m the person that made that…” said Fred.


After years as entrepreneurs, the couple found it helpful to know the market they’re going into better than anyone else and to not be afraid to ask for help. “Use your network and also your network’s network. What’s helped us be successful is that we had no issues asking our network to reach out to theirs.” Persistence is key when starting your own business. They advise you to take the “no’s” with confidence and never settle. In the long run, the “yes’s” will always outweigh the “no’s” but you’ll never succeed unless you continue to chip away at. The more you persist; the more doors will start to open.


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Growing up in a West African home herself, Perteet says food has always been central to her upbringing. She feels proud to create a platform for the amazing food and ingredients of her heritage and carve out space in mainstream grocery for these cultural dishes that have been passed down from generations. “I feel very proud to be able to create a platform for the delish food and ingredients of West Africa. It’s always super rewarding when we get our samples in front of our family members and you just see them beaming with pride; we’re doing something that hasn’t been done to date in mainstream grocery. So, pride and happiness would be the feeling that I think I consistently have as we try to grow this new space in grocery.”


Every aspect of their brand is meaningful to their family, even the name. “Ayo means joy. And so, for us, it was never about just creating frozen food, it was very much about creating an experience. For us, food has been a focal point for most of our happy moments with the family. So, if you come to our house, you’ll never come without a delicious meal, and when we thought about the emotions that we wanted to evoke, it was very much the same emotions we had as a family which is joy and happiness of having a collective meal together. Which we felt was a perfect fit, building the brand and sharing the brand has truly been an expression of joy for us.” said Perteet.


The quality time and connections that are built in the kitchen are everlasting. As both of their fondest memories involve being around the pot, surrounded by family, Fred and Perteet want to continue these traditions with their two children. The West African dishes that Ayo sells remind them of happy memories and togetherness. “I’m an adapter to these meals because I didn’t grow up traditionally in a West African family-like Perteet did. But I just know the best memory for me is every holiday or even every family get-together her aunt brings one of our dishes—Cassava leaf—and that family connection between those guys is just heartwarming for me.” said Fred. While the pandemic may prevent us from physically being together, this food represents a sense of connection and shared experiences, making the distance not as hard.


Ayo frozen meals are the perfect food to grab on a random Tuesday night when you get home late and still have to clean up the house and help your kids with their homework before bed. It gives you the comfort of home and nutritional taste without any time constraints. Consumers can look forward to Ayo’s new launch of Puff puff! “Puff puff is very similar to a beignet; it’s a subtly sweet, lightly fried bread that is a perfect breakfast treat sprinkled with powdered sugar or equally delicious with our pepper sauces. And so, those will debut at Mariano’s locally, in Chicago,” confirmed Perteet. Families all over the country can find this at their local grocery or on their website: https://ayo-foods.com/. Enjoy delicious West African dishes and let Ayo Foods bring a little joy to your table.


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