Whether you’re nice in the kitchen or an instant ramen superstar, we’re all eating more meals at home these days. Luckily, brands like Black-owned Neilly’s Foods are producing fast, healthy options that can help you spice up your go-to meals with minimal time and effort.
Neilly’s Foods offers a wide range of rice mixes, quick cook beans, premium rice, sauces, and frozen sides — all infused with spices and seasonings from a range of global cuisines. While the brand boasts a range of tasty options, the cornerstone of its burgeoning food empire is a roster of quick cooking rice mixes in flavors like, Cajun Gumbo, Jollof Rice, and Teriyaki Rice, to name a few.
The magic of Neilly’s rice mixes lies within their expert spice blends, premium parboiled rice, and real, dehydrated vegetables. Each rice mix can be made in just 10 to 15 minutes and contain all-natural ingredients with no chemicals, additives, MSG, or animal products. In addition to the rice mixes, frozen offerings include hard to come by tropical staples like plantains and yucca fries, and their shake and squeeze sauces that come in flavors like Spicy Marinara, Coconut and Mambo Sauce.
Neilly’s Foods was created in 2012 by husband and wife business team Albert and Julie Ndjee. The idea for the business came years ago when both Albert and Julie had busy professional careers and small children to feed. They sought a quick-cooking, healthy product that would help dinner come together faster without sacrificing health or taste.
As Cameroonian immigrants, the Ndjee’s say their inspiration for the range of tastes and flavors in their brand stems from their multicultural background.
“We come from a place with a very rich culinary tradition,” Albert Ndjee said. “In Cameroon, we have about 200 different ethnic groups. And each of these groups have their own culinary tradition. So, when we came to the U.S., we were always interested in trying different foods from different places and areas of the country.”
This year, the brand is planning the launch of several new foods, including a product that might be a new taste for most American consumers — a grain-based breakfast porridge called fonio.
“Fonio is an ancient African grain that is very healthy. It’s been eaten for centuries in Africa. Its similar to quinoa, but you can eat it at breakfast or with savory dishes,” Ndjee says.
The company started with a few placements in Whole Foods and then expanded to other, local grocery stores. Business was going well, but then COVID-19 forced the Ndjee’s to switch up their business model and begin to offer products online. They tackled the setback head on, enlisting the help of their daughters Leila and company namesake Neilly to develop the brand’s social media presence and to help them market the products digitally.
Albert is proud of his family’s progress with Neilly’s Foods and he encourages other Black entrepreneurs to enter the packaged food industry.
“We have that culinary culture that we can share with the rest of the world,” he said. “It is true that it’s a difficult business and it may discourage people. But it’s rewarding when it does work. I would encourage our people to look into it because it can be very rewarding.”