Bringing Africa to the grocery aisle

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2012 - 5:31 PM

A Liberian immigrant sees a market for African staples in major supermarkets and has started selling through Cub Foods.

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James Sanigular's company Global African Foods recently got a deal with Cub Foods to sell African foods at several area Cub outlets. His goods - cassava flour, palm oil, etc. -- are in Cub's international aisle. Idea is to get basic West African foods into the mainstream grocery supply to cater to growing African immigrant community.

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Eggs, cheese, oranges, fufu.

The last item may be just as much a staple on an African immigrant's shopping list as the first three. But finding fufu, flour made from plantains or yams, requires a special trip to an ethnic grocery store.

James Sanigular is aiming to change that. His Brooklyn Park wholesale firm, Global African Foods Inc., has struck a deal to supply Cub Foods with African specialties, and a half-dozen products sourced through Global have hit the shelves at 16 Cubs over the past month.

"Given the demographics and the growth of the African immigrant community [in the Twin Cities] this is a great opportunity for us," Sanigular said.

Africans have been the largest part of the immigration flow to the Twin Cities in recent years. By 2010, African nations for the first time were accounting for more than half of Minnesota's legal immigrants.

The majority come from East Africa, Somalia above all. But there's a growing diaspora from West Africa, particularly Liberia, Sanigular's native country.

Sanigular immigrated to the United States at age 16 in 1974. He went to the University of Minnesota, getting a degree in political science. For many years, he worked as a local stock broker. He also sold insurance for a bit, and for a few years helped operate an African food store in Crystal.

Minneapolis' near northwest suburbs -- Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center and Crystal -- are the hub of West African food retailing, an outgrowth of heavy immigrant populations there, Sanigular said.

The idea behind Global African Foods, Sanigular said, is one-stop shopping -- at least for some African staples. Even after a trip to a major supermarket, "you have to go to other African mom and pop stores to get what you need."

Plus, since Global's products will be in Cubs through much of the metro area, African immigrants outside of the northwest suburbs will have better access to African staples, Sanigular said.

Global African Foods carries items primarily aimed at the West African palate. At select Cubs, a shopper can find fufu; palm-nut cream concentrate, a base for meat soups; Maggi-brand seasoning cubes, which are meat flavored; and canned, pre-boiled African eggplants, aka garden eggs.

Another key Global product, white corn meal, is also popular with East Africans. At the Cub at 2850 26th Av. S. in Minneapolis, Sanigular is planning for extra shelf space to cater to the Somali population, so that store will feature more East African products.

At Cub, Global's African products mingle with everything from Indian masala sauce to canned Mexican cactus in an aisle that's devoted to international and ethnic offerings. Cub and other Supervalu-owned chains across the country have featured the "global" aisle for several years now.

Its composition can vary by neighborhood, depending on which ethnic groups are most prevalent. "We've had a focus on making our stores locally relevant," said Mike Siemienas, a Supervalu spokesman. That includes tailoring products to ethnic groups.

Sanigular said he first approached Cub's parent, Eden Prairie-based Supervalu, which has 11 chains across the country. Cub, the Twin Cities' largest grocery chain, was chosen for a rollout. Luke Friedrich, a Cub spokesman, said Global's products are initially in 16 of Cub's 58 stores, with an eventual goal of 20.

If Global's products sell here, Sanigular's goal is to expand to Supervalu chains in other cities. And if that works, Sanigular has even bigger dreams. "Our ultimate goal is to get into Wal-Mart."

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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