Spotlight: Oja app founder Mariam Jimoh on bringing local world foods to your doorstep
With the aim of promoting a food industry that is sustainable and diverse, The Upcoming has launched a new Spotlight series, a monthly feature to give space to people, often unsung, who are changing things for hospitality.
Oja is an ethnic and specialist groceries app that delivers culturally specific foods, products and beauty items from minority-owned stores straight to your door. It makes the global marketplace accessible to marginalised communities, particularly those who have been underserved on digital platforms. Given the current climate, connecting customers and small businesses online has never been more important, which is why founder Mariam Jimoh is so passionate about getting even the most tech-phobic shop owners on board. We spoke to the young entrepreneur about the app, why the food industry needs to be diversified – specifically delivery apps – and the importance of buying local.
Nice to meet you Mariam. Tell me about the Oja app and how it works?
Hi, lovely to meet you too. Oja is a super simple solution transforming access to cultural and specialist groceries. We are a startup bridging the gap between those who want access to ethnic or cultural products and local multicultural stores that carry these specialist products.
It’s very simple. You order from 1,000s of products on the Oja app, we pick the products up from the local store you’ve ordered from and deliver it to you as early as the same day.
What’s the meaning behind the name?
It means “marketplace” in Yoruba (a Nigerian dialect), it’s sort of the place you go to find anything and everything you need, from the most common items to the most obscure.
Diversifying the food industry is an important issue, what role will your app be able to play to aid this?
Oja will play a huge role in diversifying the products and ingredients we cook with and shop for. Not only will it diversify what we buy, it’ll diversify who we buy from… so many of our local businesses are owned by a variety of cultures and ethnicities and have so much great quality produce. Shining a light on these businesses, increasing their customer bases and also introducing new and interesting products into the mainstream market will be amazing for diversity in the food industry.
What kind of products should a user expect to find?
In our current trial launch version, you should pretty much be able to find anything within African, Caribbean, Italian, Korean and Sri Lankan food culture. That could be anything from plantain to ghee or even kimchi. You should also be able to find special products from brands too, we work with a number of direct to consumer brands that put their amazing and unique products on the app to order too.
Are there any that you are particularly proud of?
I’m pretty proud of onboarding some of our hardest stores to onboard, we love tackling some very traditional and tech phobic business because if they can really get us and utilise us (which they have been doing) it really validates a large part of the market and a lot of stores we can help come online.
What parts of the UK does Oja currently cover?
Oja is currently available across London and also select areas around London via mail order!
How important is it for you that Oja emphasises buying local?
It is so important to us that Oja supports and encourages others to buy from local stores. They are the backbone of a lot of communities and have filled huge gaps during these uncertain times. Our mission is to make the global, local – so it is really all about utilising the local resources and stores that already exist – there is no one we could trust more to supply inventory!
Do you think the coronavirus pandemic has brought cultural disparities in the UK to light?
I think situations like a global pandemic always reveal and intensify any inequalities that exist in society; be it ethnicity, socio-economics, race, gender, disability etc. I feel there has definitely been a harsher spotlight on cultural disparities and it is now quite difficult to ignore.
Did this crisis make you realise how overlooked certain cultures are when it comes to food deliveries, or is this something you’ve always been aware of?
I’ve always been aware how other cultures are overlooked for food and grocery deliveries but also just access to these groceries full stop. Delivery is definitely referring to the lack of convenience but the issue of accessibility is a whole other kettle of fish – a lot of people can’t find these products at all. This is why a product like Oja is needed. It is a product joining us all and fulfilling a need for the under-represented to be seen and served.
Every child from an ethnic minority family will remember having to do their Waitrose or Sainsbury’s shop and also another shop at the local ethnic store – it’s a reality a lot of the UK are aware of and it doesn’t have to be that way!
Have you always been interested in food?
I’m certainly an amateur foodie and wine lover, I cook a lot and also love restaurant-hopping. I’m always excited to try something new and eat from different and exciting cultures. I also love to travel to eat too… from Michelin stars to little street hubs. I probably like food a little too much! That’s why I’m so excited to feed opportunities to cook and share recipes within the app too! I’ve always said that Oja is really for me, I’m definitely the quintessential customer.
Do you think Oja has the same global potential of apps like Deliveroo?
Definitely, we can be in every major city… especially as the world becomes even more multicultural and cosmopolitan… access to things from around the world, local to you will always be needed. Our mission is to make the global, local – so that no matter where you are you can have access to products from any and every culture.
For further information and to download the app visit Oja’s website here.