This piece was made possible as part of a grant from the Julia Child Foundation
The national grocery delivery platform, OjaExpress, helps consumers access culturally appropriate foods not found in typical American grocery stores.
Founded in Chicago, Illinois, the company allows users to shop on their website via a mobile app to find culturally relevant foods and get them delivered to their homes. Shoppers input their zip code to find ingredients from local small businesses to get same-day delivery. If local stores are out of a shopper’s radius, they can have products shipped to them nationwide.
As first and second-generation immigrants from Nigeria, food has always been important to the company’s co-founders Fola Dada and Boyede Sobitan. But because of systemic inequities, it can be challenging for Black and Brown immigrant communities to access culturally appropriate foods. According to Psyche Williams-Forson, a professor at the University of Maryland College Park, this presents a barrier to food access.
Dada tells Food Tank that they started OjaExpress because they “saw that there were several grocery-delivery solutions available and popping up, but none of them were delivering groceries for the immigrant community.”
Described as an ethnic grocery marketplace, OjaExpress hopes to make these ingredients more accessible.
While many critics denounce the word ethnic because it implies that whiteness is the superior standard, Dada stands by the term “every culture regardless of its origin is ethnic; for us, ethnicity is a cultural representation, OjaExpress’ goal is to provide a platform to elevate various ethnicities,” Dada tells Food Tank.
OjaExpress’s primary focus is to place immigrant populations at the forefront of the digitized community. They maintain a blog where they share culturally-inspired recipes and stories. Dada tells Food Tank, “technology has a tendency to commoditize things, but for us, we want our platform to be about the community, creating experiences, and sharing culture.”
Beyond building cultural competence, OjaExpress also hopes to help sustain immigrant grocers and small businesses. “We are building a technology that primarily focuses on supporting small mom and pop stores—especially during COVID-19 where a lot of stores are going out of business, we want to supply technology to help them stay alive,” Dada tells Food Tank.
And while the pandemic has presented logistical challenges for the company, OjaExpress has also seen growth opportunities. “We have seen an uptick in demand, we saw people placing orders from cities we have not even visited yet,” Dada tells Food Tank.
“Food is a very important factor of life and culture, as we get bigger, we want to use food to connect people, address the digital divide, and even issues of racism,” Dada tells Food Tank.
Photo courtesy of Lance Cheung, U.S. Department of Agriculture.