Discovering the potential of jackfruit on a trip to India, Annie Nyu left a medical career to set up vegan mock meat brand, Jack & Annie's.
Jackfruit or Artocarpus heterophyllus, the spiky, green, bulky fruit is a common sight in the backyard of almost every household on the south coast of India. When ripe and cut open, its yellow, fleshy and stringy interior wafts a very intense tropical smell.
Besides being unique in their look and smell, they are also known for their versatility. It can be consumed raw and ripe, in different forms, and no part of this fruit goes to waste including its seeds.
In 2018, jackfruit was declared the state fruit of Kerala, where it is found in abundance. It’s not uncommon for the fruit to be found lying around Kerala kitchens to be savoured ripe or made into appam, ada or chakka varatti.
Raw jackfruit is used in delicious curries or crispy chips.
Jackfruits are known for fewer calories and are rich in fibre, protein, Vitamin C and many other minerals such as Manganese, Magnesium and Potassium. Also, there are recent studies that prove them to be effective in patients with Type 2 diabetes.
But the rest of the world is now waking up to the realisation of its enormous potential.
How Annie met Jack
As many foreign enterprises turn Indian charpais and kurtas into successful businesses, a few have started exporting jackfruits from India to market them abroad as ‘superfoods’ or meat alternatives.
Boulder-Colorado based enterprise called Jack & Annie’s is one such company.
They use jackfruit to make frozen and refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives in the US and recently announced a whopping $23 million in Series B funding.
While the fruit has been known to Indians for centuries, their website tells the story of how Annie met ‘Jack’ (jackfruit) only a decade ago.
It was in 2011 that Annie Ryu visited South India as a medical student and encountered a jackfruit for the ‘first time’ in her life at a street vendor’s stand. “At first I thought it was a porcupine,” she said in an interview with National Geographic dated 15 July 2016.
Annie said the fruit “blew her mind” when she ate it for the first time as a curry preparation. “It was delicious and satisfying with a texture that was just like meat. Not to mention it was also high in fibre and low in calories. Local farmers brought this easy-to-grow and drought-resistant plant to the market to support their livelihood and villages,” she writes on her website.
Annie also learned that the fruit was drought resistant, high-yielding and over 70 per cent of it went unused.
The whopping realisation and the scope of a good market in the West, made her leave her medical career to start her first venture in the jackfruit business and establish what they claim to be the ‘world’s largest jackfruit supply chain’. That’s how she established The Jackfruit Company in 2015.
The Jackfruit Company, which also claims to be the number one ‘jackfruit’ brand in the US, sells whole food plant-based meat alternatives. They claim to be the third-largest frozen brand in the plant-based category.
Later in 2020, in an attempt to expand her business, Annie’s brand established Jack & Annie’s, her second venture in her jackfruit business that sold frozen and refrigerated meat alternatives. The brand sells around a dozen of jackfruit products as meatballs, nuggets, crumbles, sausages, buffalo wings, etc. These products are sold at a retail price ranging from $4.99 (Rs 378) to $5.99 (Rs 454) in the frozen space. Their prices range from $6.99 (Rs 530) to $7.99 (Rs 605) for refrigerated items.
Closer home the humble jackfruit is sold for a retail price of around Rs 30 per kg. That’s a percentage difference of almost up to 2000 per cent.
The brand recently revealed its $23 million in Series B funding. They have now expanded to more than 1,500 locations in retailers, including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Meijer, Wegmans, Hannaford, Target and Giant.
“Annie had gone into medicine because she is committed to improving lives. In jackfruit, she saw an opportunity to do just that. In fact, by building distribution systems, improving market opportunities for farmers, and creating a working international supply chain to make jackfruit more available around the world, Annie realised she could make a difference on the kind of scale she’d been looking for,” their website states.
But while many Indians have succeeded in their attempt to monetise on the jackfruit, no one has come close to turning this into a million-dollar business quite like Annie has.
Maybe it’s time for us Indians to step up our game.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)