Inspirational Woman: Oyetola Isola | Chef & Co-Founder, Oyetty Meals

Oyetola Isola

Oyetola Isola is Chef & Co-Founder of Oyetty Meals.

The brand was set up this year and has been crafted to balance nutrition, taste and most importantly the Nigerian authentic flavour.

Tola has also set up the Oyetty Foundation, where the value of 105 Oyetty Meals is donated to provide families of children with additional/special needs with help, support and information.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Oyetola Isola, and I am the co-founder of Samis Wholesale Cash & Carry, Samisonline and Oyetty Meals. I founded the business with my husband Olusegun, in 2011.

Oyetty Meals and Samis was founded after we noticed a lack of West African foods, ingredients and meals in mainstream stores, most especially for Oyetty Meals.  We learnt that the value of the current frozen meal sector in the UK is approximately worth £7.21 billion GBP according to a report carried out by The British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) in 2022. The African food ready meals market is almost nonexistent, which we believe would create a huge market opportunity for our West African ready-meals. On average Brits buy over 3 million ready-meals a day, so why not be included in that figure?

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No I didn’t, although I’ve always liked the idea of being a female founder as I love to organise my own schedule, and do my own thing. Oyetty was born out of mine and Segun’s desire to bring something new and innovative to the UK ready-meal market, and Samis was born out of a desire to offer truly authentic West African cuisine and ingredients to the UK. So, whilst it’s fulfilled my desire to be independent and run something how I want to, it’s always been a passion project first and foremost.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

The biggest challenges for us was that, because we were entering a totally new market area at the time, we had no standard to compare our services to, and no one to look to for mentorship. It felt a little bit like winging it!

There was also some difficulty to find suppliers, packing, and nutritional labeling, because there were a lot of regulations. There wasn’t really any guidance from council around health and safety aspects, a lot for what you shouldn’t do rather than best practice, so it took a long time to get set up because we were researching so much. Labeling was also difficult because our food operates in such a niche area, it was difficult to get the nutritional information so that we could label products properly. Mass producing those was also a challenge as we had to have so many different suppliers in order to fill orders.

It’s safe to say the starting this process was overwhelming!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Launching our brand Sami’s and Oyetty Meals, definitely. Not just because it’s allowed us to have creative freedom over the way we work, but also really helped to bring West African food to the UK and support and cater to the amazing West African community that’s present where we live.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I think perseverance. It’s one thing to have drive and determination but that doesn’t mean much if you don’t preserve. We all have our good days and bad days, but as long as you can keep going and pushing through the difficult times, that’s what make you successful, in life and in business.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I haven’t mentored anyone so far, but it’s something I’d be very much open to (when I have the time!). It’d be lovely to know that I can help make a difference to someone’s life by giving them the advice I’ve learnt along my journey.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

To make people realise we cannot be truly successful until everyone has an equal seat at the table.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Dream big! Have a crazy dream, don’t limit them. Because you will get there in one form or the other if you keep focusing on it. Also, don’t let setbacks and failure put you off, it’s resilience that helps you achieve. It won’t be easy, but you owe it to yourself to persevere!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Showing UK supermarkets that they need to better cater for customers craving something different. As we add more and more recipes to our Oyetty Meals range, we have plans to approach and collaborate with UK supermarkets in the future, as we feel we can offer them a range of ready-meals that will really excite customers and attract a loyal customer-base! Ultimately, we want to reach households that have never even tried West African food, and show them what they have been missing! The ready-meals are the perfect introduction to this type of cuisine, and could result in Brits opting for say our Afang Soup, or Rice Stew instead of their usual Shepherd’s Pie or Chow-Mein ready meal.

We plan to be the first ethnic minority catering business to cater for a Royal Family’s event in the nearest future……Smiles

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