South Side couple spicing up frozen aisle with West African food

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A South Side couple is diversifying the frozen food aisle at grocery stores with West African cuisine.

This time last year, Frederick and Perteet Spencer were celebrating a deal with their first local supermarket chain. Now, AYO Foods is in thousands of stores across the country.

AYO means Joy in the West African language, Yoruba. Joy perfectly describes this past year for the Spencers.

"I'm very surprised that we've grown as fast as we've grown, it's been an amazing ride," said Frederick.

SEE ALSO | Chicago Black Restaurant Week 2022 highlights Black-owned establishments

AYO's frozen food offerings now include the rice and beans dish Waakye and Chicken Yassa. They have partnered with Top Chef finalist Eric Adjepong on the new dishes.

"One of the things that I'm most proud of is often when people taste our food, they say they cannot believe this is frozen food. And that's really by design," said Perteet, who is Liberian and grew up eating West African food.

The couple decided to enter the frozen food industry because they wanted their young daughters to see their culture reflected at the grocery store.

There's a growing market for African food. According to a Pew Research Center report, one in 10 Black people in the U.S. are immigrants. Between 2000 and 2019, the Black African immigrant population grew by 246%. People of African origin now make up 42% of the foreign-born Black population, up from 23% in 2000.

"We're trying to give them products that they're familiar with, that they grew up with," Frederick said.

As the Spencers grow AYO Foods, they are also helping others who have dreams of bringing their products to market.

"We dedicate a lot of our time to really coaching and providing our insight from this journey to other entrepreneurs," Perteet said.

Frederick and Perteet said they want to continue to be a model for growth. They're expanding their offerings outside of the frozen food aisle. The company now sells Shito Sauce and Pepper Sauce, which comes with a kick.

AYO Foods products are sold at Mariano's, Target and Whole Foods.
Copyright © 2022 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.