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Authentic West African Spices Gone Global.

Don’t let being a black woman hold you back. Focus less on the color of your skin and more on what you want to bring to life and how successful (however you define your success) that you want to be. Sometimes we focus so much on being black women that we don’t show up with our full chest and let the world know that we are here, so they should deal with it.

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF.

I’m Affiong the founder of Ekaterra, a company committed to bringing wild harvested, indigenous West African spices to the world, that are sustainably and equitably sourced direct-from-origin. I have a background in marketing, technology and strategy, as well as entrepreneurship.

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

My background is Nigerian, from the Ibibio tribe in Southeastern Nigeria to be exact. I am also British and American and claim all three.

WHEN DID YOU START?

Ekaterra.com was founded in 2019.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START?

West African spices have been top of mind consistently ever since I moved to Nigeria in 2010 for love and work. As I was on my own journey of rediscovering Nigerian cuisine after spending a long time abroad, I had always wanted to do something to give more people access to these amazing spices and flavors, as well as, educate more people about our West African culinary heritage.

Ekaterra is a company committed to creating access to West African spices that are sustainably and equitably sourced direct-from-origin. These spices have been used by our ancestors to nurture, nourish and heal generations for centuries.

Walking down the average grocery aisle you will find spices from everywhere almost, except West Africa. Where is Dawadawa, Guinea cubeb, alligator pepper? From my research, the other sad fact is that a significant number of these spices are slowly disappearing from West African kitchens, before the rest of the world has even had a chance to experience their flavors.

Awareness of, access to and the inadequate packaging of these local spices by us has prevented global home cooks and chefs alike from enjoying what this West Africa has to offer. And then there was the African diaspora, like myself,  majority of whom have ancestral ties to West Africa due to history, but who have not been privileged to experience the authentic culinary heritage of our ancestors. So many people I know of Nigerian, Cameroonian, or Ghanaian, for example, heritage hadn’t heard of some of our indigenous spices that I had rediscovered living back in the Motherland.

HOW DID YOU START?

I spent over a year researching and traveling to rural areas across Nigeria and visiting Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal for a start to discover these spices, their sources and uses. I asked questions, interrogated my friends from different countries and got them to interview their mothers and grandmothers. I was a sponge gathering information. Once I understood the spices, their users and flavor profiles enough, the rest was easy for me.

I have a background in brand building and marketing strategy. I hired a designer, tested packaging and began testing custom spice mixes featuring these spices. As far as launching was concerned, Shopify (this is not an ad plug) was the launching pad. It made life easy. Where the work is now is brand awareness, consideration, trial and sales which basically means more marketing.

WHAT’S YOUR TEAM SIZE CURRENTLY?

We are a big team of 5.

HOW HAVE YOU FUNDED THIS BUSINESS?

I have funded Ekaterra through bootstrapping and also ran a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?

Supply chain challenges with packaging. As with most businesses over the last two years, aligning supplies of packaging and ingredients has been a real experience. In some instances we’ve had jars, but couldn’t source the lids we needed, or we had spices, but our suppliers were sold out of jars. Or if they had them, they had high MOQs. It has been a game of strategy and patience.

HOW ARE YOU GROWING?

We are growing through building our community. West African spices are unique to non-West Africans and there is a level of education required. Content marketing through cooking videos, recipes and education on the spices themselves are all helping us to grow an engaged community who are eager to try our spices in their everyday cooking. We also have a B2B wholesale business for catering companies, chefs and restaurants.

WHAT’S A PROBLEM YOU FREQUENTLY FACE AS A FOUNDER?

I don’t think there is really one problem. There are many different problems that arise as the business grows. If anything, managing burnout is probably one that cycles round here and there. In building a business there is always something to do and one has to learn to be ok, switching off, taking a breather and then jumping back in.

HOW HAS BEING A BLACK WOMAN IMPACTED YOUR GROWTH?

I honestly haven’t experienced anything negative or positive to date about being a black woman in business. Or being a black woman affecting my business in any way. However, this is my own personal experience and I am still on the journey of building this business, so who knows? It’s not something I keep top of mind when I wake up in the mornings and get to work. I’m a founder that is building something amazing doing everything I can to help it grow.

HOW DO YOU STAY MOTIVATED THROUGH THE UPS AND DOWNS OF GROWING A BUSINESS?

I have an informal supporters club. A group of friends, family, peers who cheer me on. On days that I am totally out of it I turn to them for support.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST WIN SO FAR?

Greatest win so far was when we finally cleared our pre-order list. We launched in November of 2021 and due to supply chain issues, harvest timelines, and other delays we were only able to start shipping out pre-orders in May. That’s when everything finally came together. Our team was so relieved. We finally cleared our backlog and were able to focus on new customer orders shipping them out within 48 hours.

WHAT DOES EQUALITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION MEAN TO YOU?

In the world of food, it means full representation.

HOW DO YOU UNWIND?

When I want to unwind I spend time playing with my two dogs and two cats, because animals have an amazing way of keeping you grounded in the present and the joy of the moment. Otherwise I enjoy a glass of wine sitting out on our balcony with my husband talking about everything and nothing.

IF YOU HAD ONE PIECE OF ADVICE FOR A BLACK WOMAN JUST STARTING OUT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Don’t let being a black woman hold you back. Focus less on the color of your skin and more on what you want to bring to life and how successful (however you define your success) that you want to be. Sometimes we focus so much on being black women that we don’t show up with our full chest and let the world know that we are here, so they should deal with it.

LEGACY: WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU ARE DOING?

West African spices heritage deserve their place on the global culinary table. West African culinary heritage deserves to be preserved. People who forage and cultivate these key ingredients should have access to the global spices and seasonings market and people around the world, West African or not, deserve to taste the flavors of West African when they want to. That’s why I do what I do.

WHAT ACADEMIC QUALIFICATIONS DO YOU HAVE?

I have a BS in Mathematics from Clark Atlanta University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

YOUR FAVE 3 BLACK GIRL BRANDS.

Egunsi Foods by Yemisi Awosant @egunsifoods

Poks Spices by Abena Foli @poksspices

 My Namaste Organix by Lolade Cameron-Cole @mynamasteorganix

ANY FINAL COMMENTS?

What you have created here with Black Girl Maker is very much needed. I would love to see the community come together to support one another from Canada, to the USA to the UK to Europe to Senegal to Nigeria and beyond. When we come together to support one another we all, as a community, rise.

YOUR WEBSITE/IG HANDLE.

Website: www.ekaterra.com

Social Media: @ekaterraco


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