I was born into a food business. I grew up with my mom having a buka back home. what you’d call a restaurant here. From there I really fell in love with cooking.”
The Power of Food
The first thing you notice about Florence Karp is her infectious smile, so it’s no surprise that she’s made it her life’s work to pass that smile along to others. Growing up, her mom ran a buka, the name of the small cafés that dot the streets of her hometown of Esan, Nigeria. The communal atmosphere and aromatic smells of the café were like magic to her. When it came time for her to choose a career, she knew she wanted to teach others about the power of food. She opened her own catering business and school, where she cooked and taught students how to start their own food businesses until moving to the US.
Once in the US she switched careers, going into the mortgage business. When you have a gift like Florence’s though, the universe doesn’t let you abandon it that easily. She couldn’t help but cook for her colleagues, and one of those colleagues just happened to be NEON’s Stephen Obayuwana.
From Her Kitchen to Yours
The second thing you notice about Florence is that she’s full of ideas. A few years after she'd left the mortgage company, Stephen ran into her at an event and learned she’d started a life coaching business. While life coaching was a good fit for her warm, outgoing personality, it wasn’t a business she could pass down to her children or sell when she was ready to retire. After hearing horror stories of restaurants being sued by angry patrons and seeing the grueling hours her mom had to work as a restaurant owner, she was hesitant to jump back into the food world. Stephen agreed that a restaurant would be too high cost and inflexible for this point in her career, and instead encouraged her to think of a product she could sell at grocery stores. She spent the next couple of months visiting different stores doing market research, noting which products were absent from the shelves. Knowing that the most successful products deliver a clear benefit to customers, she wanted to make something that saved customers' time, was convenient, and had a variety of uses. It’s then that she realized she could package the flavors from home in the form of a traditional African sauce.
What Florence decided to manufacture is her “Afric Sauce,” which is found across West Africa. Every family has their own recipe, but they all have a few key ingredients. The sauce, known as “stew," is tomato-based with red peppers, onions, and a variety of spices. What made it such a good choice for Florence is that it’s an easy, delicious way to make a homecooked meal; simply add your choice of protein or starch and voilà! However, the actual process from idea to manufacturing was a lot more complicated. In order to produce the volume needed to make a return on investment, Florence needed to find a co-packer. Co-packers manufacture and package products for makers like Florence. While she was able to find a co-packer locally with relative ease, it took her over 2 years to determine which license she needed. Then, there was a difficult process of making sure each batch tasted exactly like the sauce she made at home. She worked closely with the co-packer, demoing her cooking process and passing along the knowledge that can’t be captured on a recipe card.
It’s Difficult Manufacturing Magic
When mass-producing food, there are things other than taste that must be accounted for. Florence knew part of what gives her sauce its taste is that is doesn’t contain preservatives. However, food sold in grocery stores often must sit on shelves for days at a time before being sold. With her sauce requiring refrigeration, this limited the stores she could sell it to. It has also made it harder for her customers to find it; they’re so used to sauces full of preservatives that they don’t think to look in the refrigeration section. Shipping refrigerated food is also much more expensive, something that is only financially feasible in large quantities. This hasn’t stopped Florence from getting the word out about her sauce.
“Awareness is key. Most stores don’t want to sell a product people aren’t aware of yet, so every store I take it to I have to do a demo.” Currently, her sauce is available locally at Seasoned Specialty Food Market in St. Paul and Tropical African Supermarket and Dragon Star Supermarket in Brooklyn Park. It’s taken a lot of her signature perseverance though, with stores requiring her to give out free samples and get good customer feedback before agreeing to sell it. She knows for her sauce to really take off, people need to taste it. She’s That’s why she’s pitching recipes that use her sauce to restaurants across the Twin Cities metro area. She's quite a saleswoman, so I have no doubt I’ll see her recipes on menus soon. Written by Anna Schmiel (NEON Community Engagement Coordinator) Photo Credit: MayPa Yang (NEON Executive Secretary) To reach Chef Flo-K Foods call 763-317-7445 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please follow them on social media or go to their website.
Purchase Afric Sauce at Seasoned Specialty Food Market in St. Paul and Tropical African Supermarket and Dragon Star Supermarket in Brooklyn Park.