Entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector are launching into the American market

by MMC
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Affiong Williams, CEO of Nigerian dried fruit snack producer ReelFruit

Amid ongoing discussions about the future of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – which allows eligible African countries to export certain products duty-free to the United States – several agribusiness companies with operations in Nigeria are already tapping into the huge US market.

Lanre Awojoodu, CEO of Sourcing and Produce, initially focused on exporting cocoa from Nigeria in Europe before expanding to products like cashews and ginger. In 2021, the company launched its own brand, So Pure, and opened a storefront on Amazon. Aimed at the Nigerian diaspora in the United States, So Pure offers products such as fonio, an ancient grain, fufu flour (made from starchy vegetables like cassava and yam), ofada rice (a parboiled rice unpolished from Nigeria), pepper soup spices, crayfish blend, and suya blend (a robust blend of West African spices). These processed products are sourced and packaged in Nigeria and then shipped to the United States, where Sourcing and Produce has also opened an office in Wyoming. (Learn more: How This Nigerian Trader Built an Agricultural Export Business)

Another Nigerian entrepreneur tapping into the US market is Shalom Bako Dangombe. When he was 14, his father moved their family of five from Bauchi State in northern Nigeria to Orange County, California. There, Bako completed high school and attended college, and at one point it looked like he would commit to a future as a professional soccer player. He first played at his university, where he earned a degree in communications, and then at the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Yet today, in his thirties, Bako spends his days engaging with small-scale farmers in northern Nigeria, persuading them to grow hibiscus flowers for Afrivana, the company he was created in 2019. Afrivana specializes in marketing and distribution. African Superfoods, especially dried hibiscus flowers. The company sells its products wholesale or private label to customers in the United States, United Kingdom and beyond.

When he noticed hibiscus tea on American shelves, it brought back childhood memories of selling the drink to his classmates after school. Known as zobo in northern Nigeria, the drink is popular among Mexican and Caribbean communities in the United States. Bako recognized a ready market for the flower, which was used to fence crops in his home village.

However, its first attempts to attract American buyers were met with resistance. For many companies, the prospect of doing business with a Nigerian entity seemed fraught with risk. “We overcame these obstacles by importing larger volumes and storing them in the United States. Then we distributed from these warehouses,” says Bako. This tactic proved effective because customers were more comfortable with the fact that the product was readily available nearby and delivered quickly. (Learn more: Supplying the US market with Nigerian superfoods)

Shine Bridge Global, an American food science and agribusiness company, was established in 2018 by Dr. Tony Bello, originally from Nigeria. The company specializes in creating products using cassava from Nigeria.

In recent years, Shine Bridge Global has focused on converting high quality cassava flour into instant tapioca flakes. Tapioca is derived from cassava root and the resulting flakes, according to Bello, have similar applications to potato flakes. Potato flakes are used as a food ingredient in the production of various commercially available products, such as pastas and snacks, and also serve as a thickener in sauces and desserts. The company is also developing a few other cassava-derived food products, such as crackers, pizza crusts, ready-made fufu, fried snacks and flatbreads, all using its tapioca flakes.

Shine Bridge Global aims to launch both tapioca flakes and end-consumer packaged products in the US and UK for a trial phase. Thereafter, it plans to gradually increase its production, selling it to consumer packaged goods companies and distributors. (Learn more: Nigerian Cassava – The Next Big Thing in the American Food Market?)

Affiong Williams, CEO of ReelFruit – a Nigeria-based producer of dried fruit snacks – sees the large Nigerian diaspora in America as an opportunity for companies like his to gain a foothold in the American market. “There is no better market, or low-hanging fruit, than your people in another country,” she says. “I see a growing opportunity for products such as mine, and other food products with increasingly global standards, to sell into the Nigerian market in the United States. »

Approximately 5 million Nigerians live abroad, a notable portion of which resides in the United States. Even if the Nigerian diaspora in the United States feels a connection to their home country, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll choose a ReelFruit package out of nostalgia. Williams recognizes that for his product to be successful, it must also resonate with a broader American consumer base, not just those of Nigerian descent. “Many foods exported from Nigeria to the United States are intended for Nigerians in the diaspora. However, if people could produce more appealing foods and snacks, this could be a big opportunity,” she notes. (Learn more: Feeding the Nigerian Diaspora in America – A Prime Agribusiness Opportunity)

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