How Mariam Jimoh ditched her banking job to open the UK’s first digital African & Caribbean food market

Ben Ebuka July 10, 2023
The success of the digital market and the solution it provides endeared many Africans and Caribbeans and attracted significant interest from investors, including Jamaican-born Brit, Raheem Sterling, and LocalGlobe. Photo credit: Mariam Jimoh via LinkedIn 2023

Mariam Jimoh quit her high-paying banking job to start her African and Caribbean online food store – Oja, which has attracted significant interest from high-network investors, including Premier League soccer star, Raheem Sterling.

The digital supermarket was founded due to the absence of African food stores that offer online services for the busy 9-5 working class and other busy folks within Mariam’s community in England. She recalled that her deep love and appetite for traditional African food kept her unsatisfied always, due to the inability to find native Nigerian foods such as yams, plantain, and okra in the local grocery stores.

She contacted several people to inquire about online stores that offered African foods but got no positive response. She often had to visit her parents back home to get Nigerian food or search for Afro-Caribbean markets.

In 2018, Mariam observed that the unavailability of African foods in her area and beyond was a problem and business opportunity. This motivated her to resign from her job in the banking world to make her daily home meal easily accessible for her and others who face the same challenge.

The Nigerian entrepreneur told MyLondon, “I pretty much never saw daylight working in investment banking. The only time I could really get groceries was by ordering online or in advance, but there was just a group of products that I didn’t have access to: my oxtail, plantain, and okra – it just made me think about why it was so hard to find these.”

Her native Yoruba background influenced the choice of her business name – Oja, which means market in Yoruba language. According to MyLondon, Oja is the “UK’s first ethnic digital supermarket focused on African and Caribbean foods,” which was also confirmed by the UK news outlet, The Sun.

“Usually, trying to find African and Caribbean products, you have to go to an actual physical market. Sadly, in a lot of cases, there’s not always a market really close to you. I wanted to streamline that process and find a way to deliver products to you when you need them fast,” Mariam Jimoh said.

Within a few months of its launch, customer patronage increased more rapidly than she had expected. She happily recalled the response the business got from the public. “The responses from people when we launched in 2020 were amazing. Customers will message us asking where certain items have gone on the site or one time when we posted something and our website crashed because people flooded the website. That’s how we realized we were building something that’s really solving a genuine problem.”

Oja has expanded beyond the initial small market coverage to the entirety of Greater London. Aside from indigenous Nigerian foods, Oja has expanded its product portfolio to offer foods from other African and Caribbean cultures, including Somalia, East Africa, North Africa, the Caribbean, and surrounding Islands. Oja also offers a Halal range and sells beauty and hair care products.

The success of the digital market and the solution it provides endeared many Africans and Caribbeans and attracted significant interest from investors, including Jamaican-born Brit, Raheem Sterling, and LocalGlobe, a testament to their belief in Mariam Jimoh and Oja.

“There is such a natural connection with Oja for me. I can get my favorite home comforts, like Biggas and plantain chips, and having access to these products at short notice is amazing! I am sure that the wider African and Caribbean communities will appreciate this too. I am excited to play a part in something with both potential and purpose,” said Raheem Sterling.

Mariam recalls her first meeting with Raheem Sterling: “When I first met Raheem, the first question was about how did we get our plantain. There was excitement, this connection that people just have over food. (The age-old debate if it’s pronounced plantain or plantin) There’s a clear need for these foods and that same feeling we all have. He had a natural connection to the things we were selling on the website and what his mum cooked for him, so we could relate over those stories.”

Today, the South East Londoner is excited about the tremendous growth her business has recorded. “It’s exciting to see where we are growing especially as a start. It’s nonstop, so you never really get to think about what you’ve created but I’m super proud of the team and what we’ve built so far. These foods and products have a connection to people’s culture.”

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: July 10, 2023

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