If you want to order organic quinoa and meat from a free-range farm where animals are allowed to die of old age, there is a handful of apps you can use.
But if you want to order smoked goat meat or Ghana yams, you’re probably out of luck.
Recognizing that Chicago’s immigrant communities were underserved by existing grocery delivery platforms, Boyede Sobitan and Fola Dada decided to build a solution.
“OjaExpress is an on-demand ethnic grocery delivery platform. We seek to address the issue of food access and convenience for immigrant communities and foodies,” said Sobitan.
Sobitan is the CEO of OjaExpress (pronounced Oh-jah), while Dada acts as CTO. Both are children of Nigerian immigrants who grew up eating dishes from their parents’ homeland. The problem is that very few grocery stores stock the ingredients necessary to make these meals, and existing grocery delivery services don’t always carry authentic ingredients.
This is partly due to these companies favoring partnerships with bigger chain stores. Another issue is that ethnic grocery stores have been slow to adopt new technologies.
“What we realized is that not only do immigrants have an issue with food access, but a lot of the stores we work with have a problem digitizing their products and putting them onto an online platform that’s easy to use,” said Sobitan.
OjaExpress works with these mom-and-pop shops to get their products online. But getting more stores and items on the platform is only part of the challenge. The app’s founders also did extensive outreach to Chicago’s African and Caribbean communities, the two groups it currently caters to.
“Marketing to an immigrant group isn’t as simple as marketing to the masses,” Sobitan said. “There’s a lot of trust that needs to get built.”
Launched in April 2016, its platform is currently available on both mobile and web. Chicago is the startup’s only market, but users from out of town can have non-perishable items shipped to them.
Although the team is still small — just the two co-founders and some contractors — the platform is growing, and there are expansion plans in place with Boston, MA and Washington, D.C. sitting on the horizon. There are also plans to add food from other cultures soon.
Like any startup, fundraising is always in the plans. But the company faces a unique challenge in its effort to court investors. Many don’t get the idea or understand the marketplace — which OjaExpress estimates is valued at $32 billion — for ethnic grocery delivery.
“Our goal is pretty much to have the United Nations of food at your fingertips,” Sobitan said.
Image via Shutterstock.