For African immigrants in the Twin Cities, it can be difficult to find traditional ingredients and products, such as fufu, palm nut cream soup and palm oil. But a Brooklyn Park-based business is helping to change that.
James Sanigular of Shoreview was an investment banker for 17 years. As a Liberian immigrant himself, Sanigular enjoyed cooking foods from his home country, but found it inconvenient to buy the ingredients and products he needed because most grocery stores didn’t carry them. He might have to drive half an hour to a small shop for a couple seasonings.
“If I am this frustrated, I know it’s not just me,” Sanigular said.
So about four years ago, he founded Global African Foods, Inc. with the goal of bringing traditional African products into mainstream grocery stores. He selected Brooklyn Park for his business partly because of its demographics and partly because the city has been “very hospitable to the immigrant population.”
After three years of negotiations with Supervalu, the dream came true in October, and 17 Cub Foods locations now carry Sanigular’s products. The locations include stores in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Bloomington, Crystal, Fridley, Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and more.
Cub spokesperson Luke Friedrich said Supervalu sees the products as an opportunity to serve a growing customer base.
“Our goal is for each Cub Foods store to best serve the many different neighborhoods and customers we serve … and this partnership allows us to serve a growing ethnic population in the Twin Cities area,” he said.
Ken Roberg is grocery manager at the Brooklyn Park Cub Foods on Brookdale Drive. He thinks the products will help draw customers into the store.
“I’ve had a few people ask for them before they came in,” he said.
Right now the offerings, which can be found in the “Global” aisle, are relatively limited. Friedrich said after the initial trial period Cub would evaluate whether to expand its product line.
Sanigular envisions a whole aisle dedicated to African, African-American and Caribbean foods.
“The demand for the product is there,” he said.
“The response has been very positive,” Friedrich said. “In fact, we’ve already had re-orders at the store level.”
But Sanigular doesn’t want to stop in the Twin Cities market. He envisions serving the African community nationally. After all, the demand for groceries never goes away.
“People always have to eat,” he said.