Oja pockets $ 3.4 million to build online supermarket for ethnic products – TechCrunch


As investors continue to invest billions in super-fast on-demand grocery delivery – trying to dislodge the dominance of traditional supermarket giants via hyper-convenient leverage (by increasing some local opposition 24/7 dark stores and delivery methods) – other entrepreneurs are seeing opportunities to slow things down a bit. Well, spice things up.

Their aim is to carve out specialized market segments by serving particular communities, requirements and tastes, for example by delivering top quality local groceries or respond to cultural difference by stocking a wide range of ethnic products.

On this last front, meet Oja: A London, UK-based startup that just won a $ 3.4 million pre-seed round, led by LocalGlobal, to create what it touts as the first online supermarket targeting communities growing cultural scene in the country.

Other funds supporting the startup include Acequia Capital; Small VC; and the group of dark angels, HoaQ Fund. The cycle also includes a number of angel investors, including Darren Shapland (CFO of Sainsbury’s); David Vismans (CPO of Booking.com); Dimple Patel (COO of Trouva); Anton Soulier (formerly Deliveroo, now CEO of Taster); Sharmadean Reid (CEO of The Stack World); Poet of the spoken word, Suli Breaks; Azeem Azhar (with a family connection to Asian food manufacturer TRS); and Riccardo Zacconi (co-founder of King.com).

Starting with focusing on serving London and its large African and Caribbean community – Oja means ‘market’ in Yoruba, a Nigerian language – the startup’s plan is to expand its inventory and application to serve a wide range ethnicities and cultures by storing food and other goods (eg cosmetics) sought after by these communities; and tailoring her app to deliver what she describes as “a unique and culturally specific shopping experience”.

Oja’s speech suggests her clients could include first generation immigrants; busy young professionals looking to enjoy the nourishment of their heritage; university students who lack domestic comforts and who live in areas where it is difficult to buy ethnic food products; and returning expats who want an easy way to access specialty ingredients to cook the foods they’ve eaten overseas.

For now, this is the start. The startup founded in 2020 ran a small-scale pilot with around 200 users – which it says has shown an appetite for service, with 67% of orders coming from loyal customers, and the number and size of customers. baskets “growing exponentially” as more and more products were added. to the online store.

He also notes that the app’s user base grew 56% “by word of mouth alone” during the pilot – arguing that this shows the strength of community appeal that can increase the reach of. the application.

“Favorites include plantains, yams, scotch bonnet peppers, oxtail and more… fresh produce is extremely important to these communities,” adds the founder. Mariam Jimoh, who started the MVP (and previously founded the WCAN social enterprise for black women).

She says the goal is to provide multicultural communities with “an essential service” that far surpasses the experience they can get in the “world food” aisle in a mainstream supermarket.

“The choice of ethnic products in some supermarkets is very limited and Oja has everything you need in one place. Not only that, there are nuances for particular foods and items that are culturally specific that we aim to include; people care about the maturity of their plantains or how their meat is cut. We aim to include these nuances to speak directly to our customers, ”she told TechCrunch.

“The app will allow you to shop by culture as we add more and more ethnicities to the assortment. Right now we sort things into cultures within a specific cultural group; Africa & Caribbean. As part of our expansion plans, we will look to expand the other ethnic products we offer in the future. “

One challenge here is that an online supermarket stocking specialty ethnic products will inevitably be in competition with the small local markets that have served these communities for years – and can also act as a vibrant community hub – so the app could be seen as a crucial break. , IRL link allowing ethnic communities to come together on a daily basis, in and around the purchase of fresh produce.

At the same time, app-driven convenience is already eroding in-person retail. And younger generations may be less willing (or able) to spend time going to the market in person for their groceries. There is therefore no doubt that traditional markets will face increased competition from specialized applications and online platforms.

But, at the end of the day, startups that find ways to work with – and help maintain – in-person local ethnic product markets might get the best reception from the communities they seek to serve.

Currently, Oja has a central distribution center which she uses to serve all of London – Jimoh claiming her goal is ‘access and ease versus extreme convenience at this point’.

“This number will increase as smaller, darker stores are launched based on where the demand for crops and products is greatest,” she adds.

On the delivery side, Oja is working with third-party delivery services to pick up this part – initially focusing on operations and customer experience, according to Jimoh.

Expanding to cover more areas of the UK, as well as expanding the range of crops it serves, is the goal of the pre-seed funding.

While Oja still has a lot of expansion to keep him busy in the UK, does Jimoh have any ambition to grow the business outside the country?

“Every day we get a tweet or a message asking us when we are coming to Italy, France or even Ukraine – we think there is a market for this solution all over Europe,” she says.

“Our mission is really to unlock access to food from all cultures, from anywhere in the world. We are initially focusing on London, but we will quickly expand across the UK, and then we will definitely have an eye on Europe. “

Commenting on the pre-seed increase in a statement, George Henry, general partner at LocalGlobe, added, “In a sea of ​​grocery delivery services and applications, Oja is distinguished by a new and refreshing approach. One that focuses on community, heritage and access, as much as speed, convenience and variety. From the use of technology to her relationship and close ties with suppliers, to her holistic approach, Mariam and her team are building a game-changing business that is ready to raise the bar for underserved communities. in London, UK and Europe. “

On the competitive side, we recently heard about a major round of seed funding for an ethnic grocery delivery app based in Continental Europe – so that slice of on-demand groceries certainly seems to be heating up.

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