T Jayalakshmi, a former teacher from Visakhapatnam makes edible tea cups using ragi and rice flour. Today, she manufactures around 30,000 to 40,000 cups per month.
Just the thought of drinking chai or coffee in an edible cup, only to munch on it later is fascinating! Although edible cups are not a new concept anymore, it’s definitely one of those products which have the potential to help curb the plastic menace.
But, have you ever wondered what goes into its making?
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“There are different formulations and ingredients that are used in the making of edible cups. But not all of them are healthy,” says T Jayalakshmi, who has been manufacturing edible tea cups in her small unit at Resapuvanipalem in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.
A teacher-turned-entrepreneur, Jayalakshmi has been making edible cups but with a healthy twist to them. She uses ragi and rice flour as the main ingredients.
“It took me around two months to figure out the right formula for the cups; I was particular that the ingredients should be healthy and unique,” she says adding that she turned to entrepreneurship amid the pandemic-induced lockdown.
Today, her cups are in huge demand with orders pouring in from across the country. Jayalakshmi who manufactures around 30,000 to 40,000 cups per month now earns Rs 7 to Rs 10 lakh per year.
Venturing into a viable business
Before starting the edible cup manufacturing business, Jayalakshmi worked as a teacher in a private school in Vishakhapatnam. But in 2020, her husband Srinivas Rao, who worked as an accounts officer in a private company, fell ill due to a liver-related ailment.
“My husband was on bed rest after the surgery, and I had no other option but to leave my job to take care of him. It was also around the time when the pandemic hit the country. While recovering from the surgery, even he was affected by COVID-19. It was one of the toughest times for our family,” recalls the 33-year-old.
“As we both were unemployed at that point, a source of income was essential. In fact, it was the circumstances that made me think about starting a business,” she adds.
Jayalakshmi who had no experience in business soon started exploring viable business ideas. Her search started with the goal of finding something that could be useful to people daily.
“That’s how my thoughts got fixated on beverages like tea and coffee that people drink every day. Though I thought of making tea cups, I was sure I wanted to do it differently unlike the already existing plastic, paper, and clay cups that create so much waste. When I started searching on finding a sustainable concept, I stumbled upon the idea of making edible tea cups on YouTube,” she explains.
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Though she thought of taking up a franchise of an already existing brand, Jayalakshmi says that after using them, she felt that it would be better to come up with a product of her own that would stand out from the lot for its quality and uniqueness.
“When we purchased a few edible cups from a Puducherry-based brand, we found many quality issues. Those cups were made of maida and I decided to introduce a healthy aspect to them. Furthermore, I wanted my cups to be made of indigenous ingredients from our own state. So, I started experimenting with different ingredients and formulations,” says Jayalakshmi.
To kick-start the business, Jayalakshmi says that she availed a loan from the Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises (PMFME) Scheme and also pawned her gold ornaments in the bank.
“It requires around 15 kg of raw ingredients for a single mix and while testing on different formulations I had to face a loss of around Rs 1 lakh. But finally, after two months of experimentation I figured out the right combination using ragi and rice flour,” she says with a smile.
“Later, I bought the machinery from Bengaluru and Hyderabad and finally started a manufacturing unit in February 2021,” she adds, claiming that their tea cups can hold a hot beverage for up to 20 minutes.
The ragi and rice flour tea cups come in two different sizes — 60 ml and 80 ml — priced at Rs 2.5 to Rs 3.5.
The tea cups are also available in different flavours like chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, elaichi (cardamom), etc letting the flavours get infused into the beverage. She has been marketing her products online through YouTube video campaigning and also through social media platforms like Facebook.
“Currently we make around 3,000 to 4,000 cups a day and around 30,000 to 40,000 cups per month. We are able to earn around Rs 7 to 10 lakh per year,” says Jayalakshmi, who plans to expand her business venture by introducing more products like chat bowls, ice cream bowls, etc.
Not just in Andhra Pradesh, she has been receiving orders from different parts of the country including states like Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Chattisgarh.
Edited by Pranita Bhat; Photo credit: T Jayalakshmi