Regina developer creates grocery delivery site to help smaller local stores reach online shoppers
Barry Vopnu was inspired to start the site after his own experience with local grocery stores
The pandemic has changed the way we shop for groceries, both in-store and at home, where there's been a huge spike in online orders.
Regina techpreneur Barry Vopnu was well-positioned to take advantage, and he's not just jumping on the bandwagon — he has been bootstrapping his grocery delivery website since before the pandemic hit.
After arriving in Regina from Nigeria as a student over a decade ago, Vopnu discovered it was hard to access local grocery stores without physically going to the store. That was an inconvenience to him, as a student and as an immigrant.
"When I first came, it was difficult because I had no friends. I realized that most grocery delivery websites or apps focused on big chain supermarkets, and I really wanted to help local stores in Regina," Vopnu said.
"So I created a platform that will enable local stores to have an e-commerce platform."
His site, GroceryXpress.ca, currently has a mix of big names stores such as Costco, Walmart and Superstore, as well as local stores such as Rosemond African Foods and Market, Body Fuel Organics and Great Asian Market available for users.
The owners of Rosemond African Foods, Babatunde and Oluwakemi Raji-Oyewole, say they'd had the idea themselves.
"So when he came to us with it, it was a logical idea and we really welcomed it," Babatunde said. "It's an advantage to all our customers and also an advantage to us as the owners of the store."
The Raji-Oyewoles said they're thrilled to be on the same platform as other local offerings.
"Coming together on the same platform with other local grocery stores is a good thing because a customer may want to buy something from one store and also get another thing from another store so its a good thing for us," Oluwakemi said.
The site had a soft test launch last year and was officially launched last month. Vopnu's startup includes a web team, a marketing team and the shoppers who make the deliveries.
It was important to him that his site cater to the entire province, not just Regina.
"There are shops in Regina that are not in remote places, so … [shoppers] come all the way from Yorkton to Regina to shop in the African store," Vopnu said.
"We want to be able to deliver groceries from local stores in Regina to far places in Saskatchewan."
The site's services are currently available in Regina, White City, Pilot Butte and Emerald Park. Vopnu is still working on a feasible plan to accommodate deliveries to farther locations like Yorkton, Carlyle and Swift Current.
"We are planning that maybe Mondays will be [delivery days] for Yorkton, Tuesdays for Carlyle … depending on the need and depending on where shoppers want to order groceries from," he said.
"In the next three months, we hope to be in Saskatoon as well."
He says he's received positive feedback so far.
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"The owner of the Rosemond African store was very receptive, so I went in and did photography because they have lots of inventory," he said.
"The Indian store on Albert was also very receptive. It costs thousands of dollars for them to make their own e-commerce platform and we want to satisfy that need."
Vopnu noticed that before the pandemic, younger people were the main users of online grocery delivery. But recently, families have been looking for convenient ways to have groceries delivered to them.
"We also have an organizational membership plan for care homes, agencies and other institutions," he said. "We can fulfil that need for businesses as well."
Vopnu is actively pitching to more local grocery stores and hopes to have a mobile app for the site in the near future. His team is prepared to take care of product photography and inventory for all the stores no matter how many items they have.
"We are ready to work with them if they are ready to work with us."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.