Every week, the Soukie Speaks’ Club Courage series celebrates a brave entrepreneur in the Arab startup ecosystem, by sharing their story and the impact that their startup is having on the community. This week we interviewed Salim El Jaï , Founder of Yuzu – top right corner of the cover photo!
1.Tell us a little bit about yourself, your educational experience and how you got into entrepreneurship.
As long as I can remember, I never enjoyed or cared about school, but I did the minimum to satisfy my major constraint: my parents. When I think about it now, I think it is wrong that I grew up with this feeling, because there isn’t a single thing that I learned in school that doesn’t help me in my decision-making processes today. Having said that, the only subject that I felt I was ever good at was science, especially computer science. A professor of mine once said that computer science is for lazy people, because they never want to do things twice. It’s all about finding patterns and automating things and for the first time in my life, I agreed with an
educational authority. After completing my studies in Computer Science at the University of Paul Sabatier Toulouse in France and the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in the US, I started working in Morocco’s largest IT integrator. However, I have always had the desire to create things and provide value to people. But having grown up in a left-wing environment where doing business was always seen as having “a dirty side to it” I didn’t know how to be an ethical businessman until I picked up a book by Peter Drucker in a train station one day. Drucker’s book helped me realize that through entrepreneurship that I could create value while also generating revenue. This realization paved the way for Yuzu to come to life!
2. What is the Yuzu experience? What can a customer expect from your service?
Yuzu is a groceries service based in Casablanca, Morocco that offers customers amazing fresh ingredients with a fun and quick cooking experience. Not only does Yuzu make cooking simple, it also helps busy Moroccan professionals save money and time on grocery shopping. We guarantee our customers the best ingredients at the best prices with recipe cards that are made in such a way that anybody can execute them. Overtime, we aim to help our customers develop healthy habits and a balanced diet. If I were to describe the Yuzu experience in one phrase it would be: “slow food” made fast.
3. What is the profile of Yuzu’s average customer? What is the size of your market segment?
At the moment, we don’t have one particular customer archetype, as our customer base is still growing. Our customer can really be anyone, because ultimately Yuzu is a groceries service. Anyone who is passionate about eating healthy and cooking at home can use our service. Whether you are cooking for one, two or for a family, Yuzu provides you with groceries and recipes that empower you to live a more healthy and “flavorful” lifestyle.
4. In Morocco, there are many cheap places to eat and, generally, Moroccan cuisine is considered to be quite healthy. So, why would a Moroccan choose to use your service instead of walking into a local restaurant?
I would compare cheap places in Morocco to a fast food joint for workers with a short break, which is typically lunch. Eventually, I would like to open Yuzu kitchens for these workers, so we can offer them a cost-effective and healthy lunch. That being said, we are currently focused on providing customers with healthy meals, which can be
prepared easily in the comfort of their own homes. While eating lunch out may be the norm for your average Moroccan employee, dinner is a meal that is usually eaten at home. Your observation that Moroccan cuisine is generally healthy and very affordable is correct. So, we have capitalized on this by streamlining the cooking process and making it easy for everyone to enjoy Moroccan food, no matter what their cooking skill level is!
5. Historically, the food preparation process has been dominated by housewives, who derived social status from their personal cooking styles. Do you think that the emergence of services like Yuzu reflect a change in the gender dynamics in Morocco?
In Casablanca, and many other cities in the developing world, the cost of living puts an immense amount of pressure on households. Consequently, both men and women have to work and share the responsibility of domestic chores. So, I believe, in some way, that this socio-economic shift has given me a unique opportunity to provide a new added value service through Yuzu. Throughout history, there have been many shifts that have had a great impact on society. One example that comes to mind is the mass production of refrigerators after WWII, which resulted in a big boom in the restaurant industry. At the end of the day, I believe that successful entrepreneurs are the ones who recognize these shifts and provide innovative solutions to people experiencing those shifts.
As a child, I remember that there was only one brand of biscuits in Morocco called “Henry’s”. However, nowadays this scarcity is unheard of, because supermarkets are filled with countless brands and all kinds of fruits and vegetables, even when they’re not in season. So, not only have people born in the 90’s, and onwards, never experienced “brand scarcity”, they have also been exposed to an unprecedented abundance of processed and fast food solutions, which are having long-term effects on their health. With the ever-growing constraint on the modern employee’s time to eat, Yuzu has committed itself to help busy people make the time and the effort to enjoy a beautiful, delicious meal made from fresh ingredients.
6. Unfortunately, the irresponsible use of GMOs, pesticides and chemicals threaten the health and lives of many people around the world on a daily basis. How does Yuzu use its influence to promote more responsible agricultural practices and how does it use its service to educate the Moroccan people about the importance of healthy eating?
As a startup that promotes “slow food,” we are fully committed to reducing our customers’ consumption of processed foods, frozen foods and fast foods in the
term. However, we realize that getting our customers to create and eat meals made from fresh ingredients is already a huge step. While we would like to incorporate more organic ingredients in our groceries list, we know that they they’re more costly and this cost is usually an obstacle for our customers. So, with that in mind, Yuzu is trying to ease its customers into the slow “food revolution” by taking them through the journey, one step at a time.
7. At the moment, all of Yuzu’s ingredients are stored in plastic packaging. Are there any plans to transition to a more environmentally-friendly packaging material?
Indeed, this is a very big issue for us, which is why Yuzu is currently thinking of two packaging alternatives. For our regular customers, we would like to use glass conta that can be collected and re-used on a regular basis- like they used to do for soda bottles back in the day. The second option we are exploring, is collecting all the plastic we distribute to our customers (not only our bags) and then sending it to a recycling company here in Morocco. Although there would be an additional cost involved, I think it would be an interesting experiment that would hopefully promote eco-friendly attitudes in our customers and the wider community. In addition to limiting our plastic waste, Yuzu would also like to start sorting the organic materials from our food preparation workshop to send to farms that can turn it into compost.
8. What project(s) are you working on at the moment and how would you like to see Yuzu grow in the future?
Eventually, my dream is to provide every Yuzu customer with only seasonal and local organic ingredients, zero waste and a recycling food service that allows them to live a healthy lifestyle and respect the environment.We are also working on providing ketogenic and paleo diet options in our service to cater to the special dietary needs of our growing customer base. Ultimately, we are working on a simple ingredients delivery system that will connect our customers with the best suppliers in town and tasty and fun food recipes!
9. How can people learn more about you and your project(s)?
People who live in Casablanca can order a meal on Yuzu’s website and learn how fun and easy it is to cook a great Moroccan meal! For those who don’t live in Casablanca or in Morocco, I invite you to visit
our website or send me an email to email@example.com for more information. You can also check us out on:
Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my Twitter, Instagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together.