Over 4 million Caribbean and about 1.4 million African immigrants together form a niche, ethnic food market in the US that is left unnoticed by the majority of the population.
Immigrant communities add a new wave of supply and demand to the US market due to their desire for delicacies from their home countries. Unfortunately due to the negligence to that market, there’s only a handful of mom-and-pop shops that offers food like banku and tilapia or starchy fufu in groundnut stew.
Chicago, home to approximately 20,000 Caribbean and 40,000 African descendants, is also home to OjaExpress, an on-demand ethnic food delivery service. The company is run by Boyede Sobitan and Fola Dada, descendants of Nigerian immigrants, and it focuses on providing access and convenience to immigrant communities and foodies.
“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 to Built In Chicago.
Apart from a thorough search for stores who sell ethnic food, the company also works on reaching out to immigrant customers and delivers non-perishable items to different cities. The startup operates primarily in Chicago, with plans to expand to Boston and Washington DC.
“Marketing to an immigrant group isn’t as simple as marketing to the masses. There’s a lot of trust that needs to get built,” Sobitan said.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The company comprised of just a few members struggles mainly with funding, since investors do not comprehend the market that OjaExpress values at $32 billion.
Besides its elaborate and exotic product list, the website displays ethnic food recipes on its blog.
In his interview with Built In Chicago, Sobitan said, “Our goal is pretty much to have the United Nations of food at your fingertips.”