Fonio, a cereal grain imported from West Africa, was once relegated to the shelves of tiny grocery stores frequented by immigrants primarily from Senegal and Mali. But it has gradually made its way to Whole Foods, where pouches decorated with a painted map of Africa are nestled amid packages of rice and lentils, aimed at a broader range of American consumers.
That journey was pushed in part by a Brooklyn company, Yolélé, which roughly means “let the good times roll” in Fula, a West African language. Yolélé also offers seasoned fonio pilafs, a line of fonio chips and, coming soon, fonio flour.
The company was founded in 2017 by Philip Teverow, a food industry veteran, and Pierre Thiam, a chef from Senegal who grew up eating fonio. Mr. Thiam is confident that Americans would eat fonio, too, if they had better access to it.
American Community Survey by the New American Economy, a research organization. Chinese and Mexican immigrants owned most, selling cuisines familiar to American palates. But entrepreneurs from countries like Guinea, Kazakhstan and Senegal are gaining a foothold with less well-known cuisines.
Marketing these foods in the United States has its challenges, like cultural identity and consumer perception. The savviest entrepreneurs work with designers and brand strategists to make their products more approachable.