For Josh Reed-Diawuoh ’09, GRIA Food Co. is a true labor of love, one that combines his appreciation for food, his business savvy, and his personal ties to West Africa. Just a few years since its inception, his thriving direct-to-consumer snack brand features six different flavors of roasted cashews, all using sustainable African crops. 

While traveling to Ghana annually for the past several years, Reed-Diawuoh established ties with business owners, farmers, friends, and family, which sparked his desire to create a symbiotic relationship with local farmers. At home in Boston, where he grew up, he had noticed the lack of African food products on the shelves and grew curious about how he could change that. He wanted to develop a delicious snack-worthy product while creating opportunities for local farmers that would ensure maximum profits would return to local communities. 

With rising support for small businesses, ethical farming, and fair trade products, Reed-Diawuoh knew there was a market for the type of brand he was envisioning. It was important to him to find farming operations with fair labor practices, where farmers were paid a premium and had autonomy over the distribution of their percentage of profit back into their farming and operations.

After careful research about possible products, cashews became the clear winner because of their shelf stability and consistent quality, and the opportunity to support food manufacturing in West Africa. He tested cashews from several suppliers and finally decided to partner with producers in Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso.

Then, he took his time developing a variety of flavors in his own kitchen (including cinnamon sugar, salted rosemary, and spicy garlic), testing for quality and consistency. He enlisted the help of friends and family as he fine-tuned each flavor, perfecting his starting lineup, which he started selling in 2020. As the business grew, he began to outgrow his home test kitchen, so he applied for the CommonWealth Kitchen’s Ready to Launch 14-week incubation program in Dorchester, Mass., in spring 2022. There, he learned about licensing, permits, marketing, and food safety, and he had access to the test kitchen for production. He is now a member of the CommonWealth Kitchen community, operating out of its kitchen and benefiting from working alongside a diverse group of fellow business owners and entrepreneurs. 

Reed-Diawuoh attended Concord Academy as a day student, and he credits the school with sparking his interest in social justice. “CA was an opportunity to broaden my view of the world,” he says, “to delve into history, to explore creative writing, to take painting and drawing classes, to try and fail at a lot of things I would’ve never considered doing, to meet people from different places and build deep friendships. It was a time where I started really reflecting on and finding my identity as a Ghanaian American.” 

After CA he attended Tufts University and became fascinated by politics and government. That led him to graduate school at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he learned about finance, accounting, operations, and sales, gaining the tools and resources he needed to found GRIA in 2019, while still a student. At MIT, he researched sustainably sourced and shelf-stable produce, ethical labor practices, and branding and marketing. By the time he graduated in 2020, he was ready to launch his business. After three years of running it part time, in September 2023 he was ready to quit his day job and go all in on GRIA. 

Reed-Diawuoh still runs all elements of GRIA himself, including recipe testing, development, distribution, branding, and sales. Over the summer, he began selling at a farmers market at Harvard University. “It was great to meet customers and start to see demand for the product pick up,” he says. “Getting immediate feedback from hundreds of people on a weekly basis really helped me refine some of my recipes and get the proportions and roasting conditions right.” 

He’s looking forward to increasing production and unit sales within the next year, but for now he wants to keep the business small. He’s focusing on quality control—GRIA recently became a Fairtrade America partner—and selling his product locally, with hopes of expanding his catalog to include new flavors, snacks, and products in the near future. You can find GRIA Food Co. products at select local markets, on the shelves at the new Dorchester Food Co-op, and at GRIAfoodco.com

 

Story and photo by Xana Turner-Owens ’10 

An earlier version of this story was first published in the winter 2022 issue of Edible Boston.

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