When Blue Ocean, the Joy of Food and Food Waste Collide featuring Perteet Spencer

March 8, 2021 | by Diana Fryc

Gooder Podcast Featuring Perteet Spencer

Listen on Podbean, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Podcasts, and YouTube

This week on the Gooder Podcast I had the pleasure of talking with Perteet Spencer, the co-founder of AYO Foods. Using her spidy SPINS senses and her desire to create a brand that celebrates the ingredients, flavors, and culture of the West African diaspora, Perteet takes us on her journey of transition and joy. Along the way we learn how her Liberian upbringing and heritage inspires her new venture and how this cultural view naturally embraces a more inclusive food production system.

In this episode we learn:

  • A little background about her brand AYO Foods.
  • Why Perteet thinks North American consumers are ready for African flavors, textures, and ingredients.
  • What food trends shape AYO Foods innovation.
  • Why she thinks Chicago has become THE place to watch for food innovation.
  • How to use data as an indicator, and not simply validation, to uncover new innovation platforms and opportunities.
  • Pereet’s thoughts on how to shrink pre-production food waste through product and manufacturing innovation.

About Pereet Spencer:

Perteet is thrilled to be able to bring all of her passions into her role as co-founder of AYO Foods. Seeking to build a more inclusive food system that reflected her experience growing up in a Liberian family, Perteet launched AYO with her husband Fred last summer with the vision of creating a platform brand that celebrated the ingredients, flavors, and culture of the West African diaspora.  

Prior launching AYO, Perteet held brand, sales, and consulting leadership roles at LEGO, General Mills, and SPINS.   

When she’s not actively working on AYO, you can usually find Perteet spending time in the kitchen with her two girls or advancing the issues of food equity through her involvement in the Food Recovery Network, a non-profit focused on eliminating food insecurity through food waste recovery.

Guests Social Media Links:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/perteet-spencer-18b3146/ 

Email: perteet@ayo-foods.com

Website: https://ayo-foods.com/  

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pmcspence/?hl=en 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/perteets?lang=en 

Show Resources:

Moonboi Project – In Kpelle, “Moonboi” means prosperity. At AYO Foods, we believe that we have a personal responsibility to enrich the communities that inspired our products. 

General Mills, Inc. – is an American multinational manufacturer and marketer of branded consumer foods sold through retail stores. It is headquartered in Golden Valley, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis.

SPINS – transforms trillions of retailer data into performance solutions to accelerate growth, and deepen loyalty with shoppers.

Food Recovery Network – a nonprofit focused on eliminating food insecurity through food waste recovery.

Whole Foods Market, Inc. – is an American multinational supermarket chain headquartered in Austin, Texas, which sells products free from hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. A USDA Certified Organic grocer in the United States, the chain is popularly known for its organic selections.

Girl Power Africa – an organization that was founded a few years back, really in service of women who were victims of civil war and are trying to get back on their feet in Liberia. 

Imperfect Foods – Shop affordable groceries and exclusive items that went from unwanted to wish for. Reducing food and retail product waste, one household at a time.

PepsiCo – is an American multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation headquartered in Harrison, New York, in the hamlet of Purchase. PepsiCo has interests in the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of grain-based snack foods, beverages, and other products.

Betty Crocker – is a brand and fictional character used in advertising campaigns for food and recipes. The character was originally created by the Washburn-Crosby Company in 1921 following a contest in the Saturday Evening Post.

Lego – is a Danish toy production company based in Billund. It is best known for the manufacture of Lego-brand toys, consisting mostly of interlocking plastic bricks. The Lego Group has also built several amusement parks around the world, each known as Legoland, and operates numerous retail stores.

Transcript

Diana Fryc: Well, hello again, welcome to the Gooder Podcast, I’m your host, Diana Fryc. As partner and CMO of Retail Voodoo, an award winning branding agency, I have met and worked with some of the most amazing women in the natural’s industry food, beverage, wellness, fitness, and as such, I created the Gooder Podcast to interview these great people and subject matter experts and have them share their insights and expertize to help businesses all around the world become gooder.

I’m really very excited today to introduce my guest, Perteet Spencer. Hello, who is co-founder of IYO Foods? Correct, it AYO?

Perteet Spencer: Yes, it’s AYO. Thank you so much for having me Diana. It’s so great to be here. We love what you’re doing at Gooder.

Diana Fryc: Oh, my goodness! Well, a little bit about Perteet. She and her husband created a new brand, kind of seeking to build a more inclusive food system that reflected her experience growing up in a Liberian family, they launched the AYO brand last summer with a vision of creating a platform brand that celebrated ingredients and flavors in the culture of West Africa. An African Diaspora; you’ll have to tell. That’s a big word for me. You’ll have to tell me a little bit more about what that is.

Prior to launching AYO, Perteet brand sales and consulting leadership roles at Lego General Mills and most recently SPINS. When she’s not actively working on her brand, you can find Perteet spending time in the kitchen, of course, with her two girls or advancing issues of food equity through her involvement in the Food Recovery Network, a nonprofit focused on eliminating food insecurity through food waste recovery. Well, welcome, Ms. Perteet. How is Chicago today?

Perteet Spencer: Oh, man, it’s actually a beautiful day in Chicago. We’ve had a few days now of like slick ice and really cold weather and we finally got fifties today. So it’s beautiful. I hope an indicator like lots of good things to come.

Diana Fryc: We had a little bit of that in Seattle too literally just a week and a half ago. We had almost two feet of snow in 24 hours, which is abnormal for the Seattle metro area. And then in three days it was 50 degrees. The kids were walking around like in tank tops because the swing in temperature was like the body was like, what is happening here?

So but I think that’s a little Chicago ish to have those kinds of swings, if I remember correctly?

Perteet Spencer: A little Chicago ish and I guess grateful we’re here versus Texas, on a day like today. And that’s out to all those folks doing their things there.

Diana Fryc: Well, let’s talk a little bit about why we’re here today. First of all, I’m thrilled to be talking to you about African food in the U.S. market. So before we dive into kind of like the business of it, can you share a little bit about AYO Foods? Why did you create it? Why does it exist outside of just making the product? What does it stand for?

Perteet Spencer: It’s such a good question. So AYO actually means joy in Yoruba and so I worked in the industry a really long time. But as I walked up and down the aisles of many, many stores, I never saw products that really look like what I grew up eating, growing up in a Liberian family. And as I looked at this changing market landscape with more and more interest in kind of bold, unique flavors, it felt like the right time to explore bringing a bit more of my experience to the aisle.

And so for us, food has never been just about getting something kind of down your throat, but really about the emotions that are created at the dinner table as we’re connected with friends and family. And for us, our home is often the epicenter of family gatherings, etcetera and so as we talked about kind of what was next for us, it felt so fitting to bring a bit of ourselves to the aisle in celebration of these incredible moments that we always experience with food being a central part of all of them.

Diana Fryc: That’s really interesting. And I’ve been talking about this not only internally within our studio, but then also with brands. Has this health and wellness category kind of got really narrow about features and benefits and it kind of turned a bit sterile or medicinal.

[00:05:00]

And really, when you think about it, everybody has a favorite, anything in their life, there’s some sort of food or beverage associated with it. You get together, you give gifts of food, at any time somebody comes over you’re offering a food or beverage and so I love this like, let’s kind of bring back the joy, quite literally eating healthier food as part of a staple. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion. It could be dinner. It could just be dinner. So talk about that a little bit more. I’m more familiar with North African foods because that’s a little bit more visible and prevalent, at least in the northwest. We start talking about sub-Saharan, West and Southern African cuisine, always interested in learning it and because I’m a little bit of a foodie, but I don’t really know what to expect. So can you share a little bit like what is a West African food? What can somebody expect from spices and ingredients and flavors?

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, it’s interesting because in a lot of ways you can say, what is it not? Because I think one thing that’s important and now when we launch AYO is my family is from Liberia, but we’re really representing a region of 17 countries, all with their own unique traditions and flavors. And so for us, we think of AYO as really a bit of exploration through West Africa, using food our guide but I think what’s pretty consistent and it’s also been fun to see even similar dishes called different names in different countries. So we just launched a new item this week called Puff Puff, which is essentially yeast paste bread that gets deep-Fried. And yes, it’s delicious. It’s like powdered sugar. You can put pepper sauce on it, but it’s called about five different things depending on the country you’re in. And so I think what we are really trying to do with AYO is bring some of our favorites to life and really start that discussion.

But I think what is pretty consistent across everything that you’ll find is really bold flavors, really unique ingredients that are really produced forward. I think a common theme is like using the full value of the produce. And so you think one of our dishes is called cassava leaf and folks know cassava or yucca roots. That’s a common thing in flowers. It’s chopped and fried, but we’re actually using the leaves of that root that often go and use it in other countries. There is a resilience and resourcefulness that I think is common across that Diaspora of like using what you have to create something really delicious but you tend to see older flavors. There’s a lot of like stews or slower cooking and it really just like taking the best of what you have and making something really delicious out of that.

Diana Fryc: Well, I was doing a little bit of research on West African cuisine or culture or food culture and I noticed that probably no surprise affaires a really heavy influence from, of course, many European countries is mostly those that were out on ships of the Spaniards and the Portuguese and so there’s little bits here and there kind of impacting the flavor profile. But I love hearing this because I think there’s a lot of countries not like the U.S but like if you go to Central or Southern America or Mexico where you’re going to, depending on the region, see the same recipe made different, sometimes quite different, but also incorporating the Whole Foods is kind of like the idea of reducing waste. Food waste is built in to the food culture. There’s no such thing as food waste. My parents were immigrants and we were the same way because, of course, there’s some stuff that I am not going to share that I ate. But that’s what you did when your parents grew up on a farm. You eat a lot of stuff growing up. But I love that we’re talking about African food because I really think that the market has been ready for a while.

[00:10:00]

I guess I wanted to say, trying to kind of make something that doesn’t exist yet. We talking about this, your experience with SPINS, right? So we know as marketers we’re always looking for data, brand marketers we’re looking for data. We work closely with SPINS to kind of where is the white space? But you can’t find white space because you have to kind of look in between data, so to speak, to find that white space. Now, you’ve worked for General Mills and SPINS and I should probably let you answer this. Was it hard to wear your research expertize hat and creating this passion brand at the same time and starting from scratch?

Perteet Spencer: Yes and no I’ll say and what I mean by yes and no is while there was not data that’s West African is going to be a place to go. There are market indicators and so one of the things I used to always talk to brands about is you have to mine the data to like uncover the story that helps support your brand. And like, the answers are never always in the data, like the Adelaide Hills part of the story. But there is always, if you think of the data is the head in the heart, like you always have to kind of bring some of the hard. I think in case of AYO, we just had to bring probably a little bit more at heart.

But there were good kind of head indicators that I got from the data. So while we didn’t see West African bubbling up, we certainly saw the emergence of a lot of different kind of international flavors and data percolating even some of the ingredients were starting to percolate like some of the greens, some of the cassava roots that were all indicators that now might be an interesting time, even if the data didn’t point us directly there. And so I think part of it was being comfortable that the data that we had told enough of a story and then certainly leaning into partners who could get there with us.

We’re a young brand and so now there are still many folks who are like, I don’t know if my customers will like this and that’s okay. I think creating a new platform is not easy. So my husband and I always joke that we’re doing it the hard way and that we’re creating a new space. But we’re so grateful that we’ve had some tremendous, like retail partners who have jumped on because they can see the vision and they can see the tea leaves in the market and other places. And so I think we used what we had and then beyond kind of what’s happening in retail, we saw some interesting things happening in the restaurant space, which is another great indicator. And so I think you just have to use all those data points to really point you in the right direction, but then lean into the heart a little bit too.

Diana Fryc: I think you have a really great opportunity because you’ve come from the world of data and so there’s probably quite a bit of intuitiveness that you already have. Even if you didn’t have access to what we would call traditional research like SPINS or an IRI and Nielsen, etcetera. So it doesn’t sound like there was necessarily well, maybe there was. Is there any kind of emotional consternation moving forward or are you and your husband a little bit more like, well, the data and we’re feeling pretty good about this? Or in the beginnings were there any hiccups or any fears or feedback that was maybe making you a little bit nervous and telling your gut different things than maybe you wanted to hear?

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, I think we’re on this journey in real time and so I think learning as we go, we launched July 15th, which is right in the middle of a pandemic. And so I think we’re learning as we go and kind of applying those learnings kind of real time. So Rome was not built in a day and so we’re not expecting that the AYO empire will be either. But I think we are taking good nuggets that we’re learning along the way and even as you think we’ve got innovation coming out this year, and I think one of our key insights was;

[00:15:00]

There are some really unique special things about just even the preparation. So you asked earlier, what is unique, a lot of it is like this slow cooking style and those really unique layered flavors. And so I think you’ll see from some of our innovation coming out, like perhaps slightly more approachable ingredients, but still protecting those really unique layered flavors. And so we think there is a home for all of it. Just having a line that kind of meets people where they are knowing that we are creating a kind of new platform in grocery.

Diana Fryc: How are retailers responding to this? You’ve already alluded to having some great partners, but are you seeing certain regions or certain types of retailers that are more open to what you’re up to? And are they giving you really good feedback?

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, the feedback has been wonderful and I think we’re getting kind of a good traction in different pockets and so to me, it’s a sign that those tea leaves that we thought were there are there. So our launch partner was Whole Foods across the south and the items are doing well there. But we’ve started already early this year to expand. So we’ll be in some market of toy stores out west. We just expanded this week to Mariano’s across Chicago land, working hard to get out east where we know we have a really strong West African immigrant population.

But there’s always some who will say no and that’s okay, we know we’re not for everybody. But it’s been exciting to see the momentum start to build as more and more folks kind of get behind what we’re trying to build. And I think part of that’s driven directly from this amazing outpouring of consumer feedback and really saying, like, hey, we’ve been waiting for this. And I think sometimes markets that are underserved; you just don’t hear their voices and so I think now that we’re here, we’re hearing like feeling this outpouring of love from folks who are saying, like, hey, I’ve been waiting for something like this forever.

Diana Fryc: What I find interesting is I am seeing a tremendous variety of innovation coming out of Chicago right now. I don’t know if it’s because you guys have some really powerful incubators and entrepreneurial startup communities that are in there. But can you speak to that at all? Are there seeds being dropped there that’s making it drawing and attracting all of this good thinking and these juices, so to speak?

Perteet Spencer: Yeah. So it’s interesting because I think Chicago is a town that’s probably long overdue for that notoriety. It’s such an incredible food town and that’s not surprising that it’s one of the larger restaurant hubs. There’s so much great ethnic food, but it really all food because of the diverseness of the city that’s Chicago. And so in some ways, it’s surprising that this kind of startup hub didn’t begin sooner but I think there is a really exciting and interesting ecosystem that’s really developed here that extends well beyond restaurants. And as you think of it, you’ve got now big CPG. You’ve got some of the major data providers. You’ve got SPINS. You’ve got IRI. You have some amazing kind of financial partners and incubators. AYO started in the hatchery.

Diana Fryc: Oh, did it?

Perteet Spencer: Yeah.

Diana Fryc: She’s a powerhouse man.

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, so as you think of all of that coming together with the richness of what is already Chicago, I think the innovation is just starting to kind of steep out of that.

Diana Fryc: I think it’s great; this is my not so secret. Secret is actually Chicago and strangely enough, New Orleans are my two favorite cities in the United States and I’ve been everywhere.

Perteet Spencer: Oh, we love New Orleans?

Diana Fryc: But there’s something about Chicago being kind of like every man’s land. I don’t know how to describe it, but this can have your culture.

[00:20:00]

But it’s accessible by everyone and you have all sorts of visual arts and architecture, and so you’re right, it’s like it’s so great to finally see it moving into CPG and even from a restaurant perspective, starting to get some traction from a notoriety standpoint and not have it just be so entrenched in L.A. or New York and it’s good to see that.

Perteet Spencer: Absolutely!

Diana Fryc: So you have a unique POV. I really do think you have a unique POV; not everybody can come with the background that you have into a new brand. And I suspect that before and maybe now even more, you have a lot of people coming to you, maybe your husband, because I know that your husband is a serial entrepreneur, if I remember correctly. And I just wonder how kind of feedback are you giving people or advice are you giving people? I know it seems like strange like you haven’t been around for not even a year yet, but I suspect people are coming to you and saying, how do I do this? What kind of guidance or what kind of advice are you giving people right now?

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, it’s a really good question. We actually were just having this conversation today because there has been kind of an influx of calls, especially as we start to build momentum and we’re always so, so happy to take those. Part of our responsibility is to pay it forward to the next group of entrepreneurs and we were benefactors of that, as we AYO now as well.

I think there are there are different phases and so some of the conversations we have are very much focused on just like, hey, I have this idea, how do I scale it? How do I get a product commercially ready? And then there are more questions around like, hey, I have a commercially ready product, but I’m trying to understand, like, how to scale it to retail, etcetera. I think we have a unique vantage point in that we have, like I have managed big brands, my husband has started companies from scratch before. And so to your point, we try to just, like, meet people where we are and help where we can. And we certainly don’t have all the answers. But, yeah, we’re always happy to share what we’ve learned along the way, not only through building AYO, but through our past experiences as it’s helpful to folks.

But I think one of the consistent themes as we talk to people is just one like just do it. This was an idea that we were sitting on for a couple of years and kind of got to a point where we had to just take the leap. And so I think sometimes those first couple of steps are the hardest and so I think the first piece is always just like don’t undersell yourself and if you are passionate about something, take the steps to move it forward, I think that’s probably one of the most common themes. And then, you can always ask for help along the way. But a good idea is just that if you don’t take action to move it forward beyond that.

Diana Fryc: I also want to say I have noticed women networking probably far more intensely in the last 12 to 18 months than I have seen before. And just being unafraid to ask for help, I don’t know how you feel about that. 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, I think it is hard to start a business like I’ve heard folks talk about the emotional roller coaster that is entrepreneurship. And I think that’s like very, very real. We have some days that are amazing and some that are much, much tougher. So you need a kind of community of folks to get that, get through that and help support you along the way. And so I don’t know exactly what is driving that shift that make people more open to it. But I think it’s definitely a welcome change in that I’ve had so many great women help us along the way, just as we were struggling with things or wanting to get feedback on partners in this really terrific and kind of helping us along. And we’re committed to doing the same for the folks who are starting behind us. 

Diana Fryc: That’s awesome. Along that whole helping or standing for something good, I notice this, is it Moonboi Project. 

[00:25:08]

You’ve got a Moonboi Project on your website. And then you also talk about efforts around the Food Recovery Network. Can you share what those initiatives are and why they’re important to you and AYO? 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, absolutely. So the Moonboi project is something that we launched this past December. And so one of our belief’s that AYO has always been that good food can do real good. And it was always our intention to build a brand that not only delivered really, really incredible food, but also kind of created economic advancement for the communities that inspired the brand. So Moonboi means prosperity and my dad’s tribe, Kpelle and so it was really around creating a platform that could do good. And so, our signature or our first partner in that work is Girl Power Africa. That’s an organization that was founded a few years back, really in service of women who were victims of civil war and are trying to get back on their feet in Liberia. 

And so our first kind of major project with them has been the conversion of about 15 acres of land into working farmland that will be used. The yield of that farmland will be used for those women to create businesses of their own to really get back on their feet and create a new path for their lives. And then beyond my work with AYO, I serve on the board of the Food Recovery Network. And that was really borne out of my interest in any kind of changing or impacting all facets of our food system. If you look at kind of our waste rates, it’s alarming say it’s about 40% of our food that goes to waste, the food insecurity rates have increased by about more than 50% during the pandemic. So it’s an issue that’s not going away. 

To me, that’s just like a very solvable problem if we have food we’re throwing away, but people are going hungry. It just doesn’t make sense. And so we do spend a decent amount of time figuring out how we fix that through networks that we’re in. And that work today is really centered on a college campus food recoveries. We know that room is poised to kind of change the trajectory for the future. So that’s why we go after them and they have the ability to like they’re going into cafeterias and taking into that, otherwise be wasted and kind of getting it in the right mouths to really fight the major food insecurity issues that we have in the US today. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, that’s interesting in the college space, because I do know that there’s some kind of hidden but there’s an alarming number of students attending college that have significant food insecurity for various reasons. But I think that’s great when you can start really close and you can have that circle be really tight right now and then have it go out concentrically. That’s pretty great when you talk about 40% of food production goes to waste. Just for my knowledge, because I’m not sure I’m clear, is that before manufacturing or sat through the entire lifecycle of the piece of produce or meat or what have you?

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, that’s the entire lifecycle and a lot of it is actually happening at home just because we’re not being as mindful as we can be about what’s in our fridge and making sure that we’re making the most out of what is there. But I mean, even on farms or if there is a lot of product that might fall in as perfectly good or it just doesn’t get caught. And you’ve actually seen a lot of organizations born out of that over the last few years. So take an organization like Imperfect Produce. Those founders actually were founders of Food Recovery Network, coincidentally. 

Diana Fryc: Oh, really? 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah. But all designed to kind of figure that issue at different points in the process. And at AYO, we’re really proud of the work that we do with some of the ingredients selections we make and that much of what we pick are the things that typically don’t get used.

[00:30:04]

Like the cassava leaves, seeds, because those are valuable nutrients and ingredients that are so delicious and just under celebrated today. 

Diana Fryc: Yes. And the nutritional level to it. I mean, we see all sorts of brands using like remnant grain elements. And I know that PepsiCo at one point was trying to create a brand that was using unused waste and even Forager was creating chips out of the remnants from their press juices, feel like there’s so much more that can be done there. For me at CPG is tough, though, because part of CPG is maintaining consistency. And when we’re talking about waste, there’s a great deal of inconsistency. Do you guys talk about that? 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, I think it is a tough challenge to solve. I don’t think we’ve solved it yet, but I think the reality is it has to be something that we solve and fix. We can’t continue to waste food at this rate. One; for like the people that it impacts, but well beyond just like food insecurity, that waste has that tremendous impact on our environment. So we can’t afford not to fix it. So I take that as a challenge to the industry to figure out like how can we deliver that consistency but still do it the right way. There’s a lot of smart people in this industry to figure it out. We figured out, I think, harder things, right? But that’s the work to be done. 

Diana Fryc: Awesome. Well, I love this conversation that we’ve had. And I don’t know if there’s anything else that you want to share about AYO and the direction that it’s going in or about research. How do you feel? Do you feel like you want to share anything else right now? 

Perteet Spencer: When we set out to build AYO, it was always with the intention of creating a platform brand. And so we’re so thrilled to launch and frozen and we wanted to make it easy, as easy as possible to experience these flavors. But we are just getting started. And so really excited to see this platform evolve over time and enter new spaces as we bring these incredible ingredients to a broader market. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, I think what will be interesting to see what happens is, I think Frozen is seeing, of course, a resurgence of interest, particularly because of the pandemic. And it will be interesting to see what happens on the shelves in the next 12 to 18 months, because there’s literally only so much space. So as new brands like yours enter what kind of will start to phase out. And I will be very interested to see how that shakes out, because I see certain categories in Frozen as having a disproportionate footprint in frozen section. 

And I wonder if that’s going to be mostly in the treats section. I wonder if that’s going to change or not. I hope so, because I love frozen treats, don’t get me wrong. But I think that bringing more and more nutrition through a variety of products like yours is really, really the future of where we can be going. So thank you for sharing that. And frozen is its own topic. There’s so much to be said about that that whole space and the footprint. 

Perteet Spencer: Well, I feel like Frozen has been a bit of a sleeper category. Like if you look at the longitudinal data, let’s say over the last few years, yeah, it’s actually steadily grown as these more kind of premium entrants come into this space. I think you’re spot on around like what is will be next to be disrupted and frozen. But there are some instances where frozen is actually outpaced, even the refrigerated perimeter, as you’ve got all these interesting brands coming into space. I think the space that’s going to be really interesting to watch over the next year is actually center of store. As the Dated Brand has kind of gotten new life over the pandemic as people coming back into the center. And so, yeah, there’s just like really interesting things, like I worked on Betty Crocker for a while and at General Mills and seeing kind of the innovation coming to baking and categories.

[00:35:06]

I think that resurgence is really interesting as well, so it’ll be fun 2021 to see at the end of the year, kind of where we land. And in what’s in the mix. 

Diana Fryc: Yes. I was just having this conversation with somebody. This was about a month ago and they said, “Well, what do you think is going to happen in 2021?” And I said based off of the conversations I’ve been having in the last six to 12 months and the work that we ourselves have been doing, I think consumers brains are going to do double triple flips by the end of summer. The amount of innovation, all of the redirecting all of these marketing allocations and figuring out how to take care of supply chain and everything had to be rejiggered. And so it kind of reinvigorated the innovation process in so many organizations that you’re right. 

I mean, Betty Crocker was just a Betty Crocker for an example, prime for the pump, for the situation that we’re in right now. The whole premise was making baking easy. That was how they came out. So why would they double down that and explode? So, yeah, I think that’s very interesting center store. But I think brands across the spectrum, even outside of food and beverage, I think people are going to be shocked at product innovation that comes out and the variety. I’m not seeing a lot of the same, the same, the same. I’m literally seeing brands like yours coming out over and over different categories and spaces. So that’ll be fun. 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah. When we were disrupted to our core rate last March, like let’s shake it all up, let’s start fresh. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, like an Etch A Sketch. Start from scratch. Well thank you for sharing all of that. I have a last few questions I always like to ask everybody when they come on here. And first of all, I wonder, is there some sort of interesting fact either about your past work experience or maybe it’s just about the cuisine that you’re bringing to the market? Some sort of interesting I like to call it cocktail tidbit, something I might tell my friends over a cocktail. 

Perteet Spencer: So I think one interesting factoid or like fun piece of cocktail conversation is Jollof, which is one of our skews is actually like one of the most greatly debated items in that whole West African Diaspora. So while there is generally love and excitement across all countries, the great debate over Jollof and what country makes the best is actually a source of great content. 

So I would encourage you to spend like five minutes doing, like, #Jollofwars. That is a thing.  And I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised or at least entertained for a few minutes by like this like friendly banter that can get pretty heated pretty quickly. 

Diana Fryc: Sounds like Americans and our rib’s like particularly.

Perteet Spencer: I think it’s worse I mean, pretty, pretty heated. 

Diana Fryc: Spell that for us for those that don’t know how to spell it so we can go look that up. 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah. So just do #Jollofwars, ok. 

Diana FRYC: Oh it’s hilarious. Okay, are there any women leaders or rising stars that are out there that you’d like to either acknowledge or just give some visibility simply for what they’re doing? It doesn’t have to even be in this industry. It could be anywhere. 

Perteet Spencer: Oh, man. I think there’s a ton I think a few that I am personally incredibly appreciative for Denise Woodard at Partake, I think she’s doing some amazing things and she’s been just such a great support for us as we’re on our journey, just being a bit ahead of us. A great resource to bounce things off of Karuna Rawal, who I know connected us is just doing really great things. I’m excited to see Nature’s Fynd hit the market this year. I think they’re going to be big disruptors and plant base and I’m so excited to see what they’re doing. Shana Harris and Norman Kadira are doing some awesome things on the capital side, which I know has historically been a big barrier to seeing more of these incredible businesses ever kind of meet the light of day.

[00:40:00]

And so there is supply change capital, I’m super excited to see what they’ll do. And Diana, I just appreciate women like you who are creating a platform for strong women to be highlighted and featured and really inspire folks. 

Diana Fryc: Thank you. That’s generous. I appreciate that. Thank you. You’ve already talked about this a little bit and you’ve already covered, I think kind of what brands or trends you’ve got your eye on. It sounds like center of stores where you’ve got your eye on right now. 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah. I mean, I think to your point, like, this has been such an interesting year, I think there it will be hard for the market not to respond or cross a store. I think the center, I think, is primed to be most disrupted. But I think there are a lot of spaces just in kind of food tech that it will be interesting to see what happens over the next year or so. I think one of the most obvious spaces that I think the jury’s still out and kind of what it looks like in five years is the plant base market and  kind of how that evolves and continues to make headway. It’s certainly not going anywhere, but I think just food tech is a space that I’m really interested in. And I think as you see more of that type of innovation come to the market, I think it’s really going to disrupt how we think about food and consumer food overall. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, I’m really hopeful that food tech will have the ability. I spoke with Christie Lagally over at Rebellyous. I don’t know if you know her about using food tech to kind of lower that price barrier so that more people can get into healthier eating, because right now, pretty much across the board, eating inexpensive means mostly eating not well, that’s not across the board true, but very common. So that’s what I’m most excited about from a food tech standpoint. I’m also interested in what will happen with grocery stores in general and how they’re going to change based off of how consumer. We’ll see how consumer trends shift here in the next 12 to 18 months. But I suspect the footprint of the store is going to change pretty dramatically. And that will be very interesting to watch. 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, and I think even pre pandemic, you started to see kind of new formats start to go to market. I think that’s only going to be more accelerated during kind of post pandemic as consumers are just looking for a different experience when they’re in the store. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah. Especially since it’s pretty much the only place that you can go to on a regular basis right now. How are you keeping yourself sane these days? You are at SPINS, you’re starting a new job, you’ve got two kids at home and you have a husband that’s a serial entrepreneur. There is no downtime, I’m guessing, in the household. 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, not a lot of downtime, but it’s so fun. So, we have so much passion for what we’re trying to build. And so I’m sure at some point we’ll have to figure something out. But at this point we’re all like all in on AYO, we want to see this platform succeed. And my husband often jokes. He is like I don’t get why people hop on calls and say, Happy Friday. He’s like, it’s just another day. Like you have every day to look forward to. And we love what we’re doing right now. And so for better, for worse like that has become our downtime, yesterday we took our girls out for a fun afternoon event, which was actually like going to Mariano’s and showing them the product that had just hit the shelves. And they were so, so thrilled and excited. Like our seven year old looked at me and said, “Mommy, am I a part of this?” And I was like, “Oh, absolutely. You’re part of this.” Some of those like five am plant runs and all that stuff. So it has truly become kind of a family affair at this point. So, I’m sure we’ll get some down time and at some point, but not quite yet. 

Diana Fryc: You’ll find it eventually, I know. Our kids are the same way when they see something that we’ve worked on, strutting around with it in the house or whatever. Look, this is what dad worked on. This is what mom worked on. 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. 

[00:45:00]

Diana Fryc: And before we go, if people wanted to reach out to you and connect with you is LinkedIn the best way to do it, or do you have a preferred method? 

Perteet Spencer: Yeah, LinkedIn is absolutely fine, otherwise email is fine as well. It’s easy perteet@ayo-foods.com

Diana Fryc: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time today. I know we could probably talk more, but I’m grateful for the time that we’ve had and thank you for sharing about what’s happening. We’ll definitely be watching what happens with AYO and can’t wait for it to come to Seattle so that I can give it a try. Do you have any idea when that might be? 

Perteet Spencer: I’m hoping later this year. Fingers crossed. So we’re working our way in that direction, but not in Seattle just quite yet, but hopefully soon. 

Diana Fryc: Well, if you need a heavy, just let me know. Let me know who to talk to. I can pull a little Chicago attitude and go and visit some people if I need to. 

Perteet Spencer: I love it. It always helps to know some people. So I will keep that in mind. 

Diana Fryc: Thank you so much. 

Perteet Spencer: Thank you, Diana. I appreciate it. 

Diana Fryc: This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo, a creative marketing firm specializing in growing, fixing and reinventing brands in the food, beverage, wellness and fitness industries. If your natural’s brand is in need of positioning, package design or marketing activation, we’re here to help. You can find more information at retail-voodoo.com. And so there you go. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to this channel and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do gooder.