In Bordi, Maharashtra, chikoos are a big deal. There’s even an annual chikoo festival in this coastal village, just three hours away from Mumbai city.
Mahesh Churi, who grew up in Bordi, developed a love for this sweet fruit. He also became aware of the significant waste in produce and the unfair prices farmers were receiving.
However, the engineer went to Mumbai to work for a while and returned to the village in 1996 to run his own electrical manufacturing company.
But he had never been able to stop thinking about different ways to empower farmers and add value to the humble fruit, chikoo.
“Chikoo is such a nutritious fruit. It is rich in phosphorus and dietary fibre which helps in digestion. Since it is widely available in Bordi, I started thinking of innovative ways in which I could source these fruits from farmers and start a social enterprise around it,” he says.
He brainstormed for almost 12 years before starting his venture in December 2017, a one-stop shop for all things chikoo — ‘Chikoo Parlour’.
Mahesh was determined to create a product without preservatives, artificial flavours and colours.
The first product he experimented with was chikoo powder, which could be added to milkshakes, sweets and desserts, but it didn’t sell well.
His brother-in-law, who ran a catering business in Palghar, assisted him in developing various chikoo-based sweets — such as pedas, barfi, and sweet rolls.
After three years of patient experimentation, the parlour was set and people seemed to like the various chikoo products.
Today, ‘Chikoo Parlour’ sells different varieties of sweets, toffees, milkshakes and ice creams in their outlets, sourcing more than 250 kg of chikoo directly from farmers.
They feature three sections in the parlour — ‘Meetha Chikoo’ where they sell sweets, ‘Sookha Chikoo’ where they sell powder and rawa, and ‘Cool Chikoo’ for milkshakes and ice-creams.
Today, Mahesh employs local women in their manufacturing unit in Bordi, and has an annual turnover of over Rs 1 crore.