Supergrain fonio expands its reach in US market

11 Jan 2024

More US consumers will find nutritious, climate-smart grain fonio in supermarkets thanks to a new distribution structure for the import’s most prominent commercial brand, Yolélé.

Brooklyn, New York-based African food company Yolélé pioneered the sale of the fonio grain in American consumer packaged goods with its launch in 2017. Fonio is a cereal grain that is primarily grown in west African countries like Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal.

Supergrain fonio expands its reach in US market
Pictured: Chef Pierre Thiam, Yolélé Founder | Source: PRNewswire

Yolélé was the first brand to bring fonio to the United States, and its mission is “to share Africa’s ingredients and flavors with the world.”

The company also said it aims to create economic opportunity for smallholder farming communities in Africa, and to support their biodiverse, regenerative, and climate-resilient farming systems.

Supporting distribution in house and smallholder farms

Yolélé currently sells bagged fonio, advertising that it is “like couscous” on the packaging, as well as three varieties of fonio chips and five varieties of fonio pilaf. The products can be found in specialty local grocers across the US, as well as larger chains like Whole Foods Market and The Fresh Market.

In its recent distribution announcement, the brand said it will transition out of a license arrangement with Woodland Foods, which governed sales of its products. Yolélé will now directly operate a distribution channel for all its product lines. This move will allow the brand to reduce the price of its fonio from $6.99 to $5.99.

Yolélé said it hopes that as the vendor of record, it will be able to further support “programmes that increase visibility and awareness for the brand and the products”.

A nutritious, climate-smart crop

Fonio is a tough, drought-resistant crop that can be used like any other grain. It is naturally low in cholesterol, sodium and fat, and is a good source of B vitamins, iron and zinc. Fonio has traditionally been known as an inexpensive, versatile crop found in Africa alone, before the effort to expand it to western markets in the late 2010s.

“Most people in West Africa rely on farming to survive, but they don’t have access to markets,” Yolélé said.

“At Yolélé, we’re connecting smallholder farmers – mainly women – with local and global markets so they can support themselves from agriculture while increasing food sovereignty in the region.”

Resilience in farming and funding

On its website, Yolélé explains that even when West African farmers are able to get fonio to market, they struggle with low agricultural productivity and a lack of processing capacity, both of which prevent them from making money consistently.

To combat this problem, Yolélé said it is building processing facilities in West Africa that can turn plants into food to be sold locally and globally. It also prioritises collaborating with governments, intergovernmental agencies and NGOs to train and equip smallholders on conservation farming to increase productivity.

Credit: © iStock/Michelle Lee Photography© iStock/Michelle Lee Photography

“We are creating a market for traditional crops grown under these resilient farming systems in order to foster a more biodiverse, drought-tolerant landscape across West Africa. Devoting more land to this kind of farming has the potential to regenerate and regreen the Sahel,” Yolélé said.

The brand is accomplishing this with the help of nearly $2 million in funding that it raised in early 2022. In October, Yolélé also announced a partnership with Brooklyn Brewery to release a fonio-brewed craft beer. The Fonio Rising Double Pilsner can be purchased in Whole Foods Market.

“Fonio is easy to brew with and gives beautiful flavours to beer. This is very exciting stuff, and I can easily envision a future where fonio is widely used as an everyday brewing ingredient, bringing vast benefits to brewers, beer drinkers, farmers and the planet,” said Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery.

Related news