How this startup using Jackfruit to take on India's meat market
Our jackfruit mock meat products have no preservatives with a shelf life of one year and require no refrigeration, says Wakao's Sairaj Dhond
Wakao Foods, a Goa-based sustainable startup founded by young Sairaj Dhond, launched what it calls jackfruit mock meat in 2020 just before the Covid pandemic hit the Indian shores. The startup, which brings plant-based ethically sourced 'ready to cook' and 'ready to eat' products to the market, never looked back. All Wakao products have no preservatives with a shelf life of one year and require no refrigeration. The startup taps the newly converted vegan consumer audience, along with changing perceptions of the vegetarian audience. "Wakao's current offering of jackfruit meat is ethically sourced and hand-picked from farms, hygienically manufactured, and brought to the customer's dining table," Sairaj Dhond, Founder and CEO, Wakao Foods, tells Bizz Buzz in an exclusive interaction
Wakao is currently available in a direct-to-consumer (D2C) format through its own website, and online marketplaces like Flipkart, Amazon, and a few others. It is now present across modern retail and niche outlets across Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Assam, Pune, and Ludhiana with continuously expanding operations pan India
We are also looking at educating people and making them realize the importance of mock meats and what can be made out of jackfruit in India domestically and therefore we are moving very fast in appointing distributors across India. We are looking at a combination of both organic and inorganic growth
What was the rationale for starting a company of this nature?
Wakao Foods is a sustainable Goa-based company that brings plant-based ethically sourced 'ready to Cook' and 'Ready to Eat' products to the market. The first offering from Wakao is the native jackfruit meat. Inspired by rising trends of veganism across the world and in India as well, Wakao brings a new and disruptive approach with a sustainable focus. Launched in 2020, just before the pandemic hit Indian shores, Wakao has still shown a 25 per cent month-on-month growth since its inception.
Do you have a good supply chain in case of having to scale up quickly?
Wakao is currently available in a direct-to-consumer (D2C) format through its own website, and online marketplaces like Flipkart, Amazon, and a few others. Wakao is now present across modern retail and niche outlets across Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Assam, Pune, and Ludhiana with continuously expanding operations pan India. The brand also has an international footprint in Dubai, Norway, Netherlands and will soon be expanding to the USA, Brazil, Canada, and Singapore among others. It has multiple strategic tie-ups with the Hilton pan-India, the Oberois, Ibis, Zomato Hyper Pure, and Ola Foods. We have many tie-ups in the Horeca segment as well with many restaurants and cafes serving Wakao products. We tied up with a leading logistics company for Pan-India warehousing, which will help us time and cost.
How bullish are you about your brands in the long term?
We are very bullish about the brand in the long term. We are consistently seeing how well the product has started being received by the consumers. We recently got funded by Sugar Cosmetics, Mama Earth and Emcure Pharmaceuticals in the 1st edition of Shark Tank India that aired on Sony Entertainment Television. Even though we did not accept the funding, this further solidifies our belief that the market is ready for Wakao Foods.
What is the marketing strategy for your brands?
When the innovation of our brand Wakao happened, we knew that we have a new product on hand which has never been introduced to the industry. In fact, it is as good as a category creation. The idea was to reach out to consumers and educate them first about what Wakao Foods was all about, the nutritional values, benefits, and new varieties that can be explored with Jackfruit.
From our pricing strategy to combos, selecting the target market to being very specific on the communication front on how to run ads, all checkpoints were pre decided. We were very sure on what customers we wanted to target, what the brand positioning was to look like. We wanted to position Wakao Foods as a premium category brand and tap the newly converted vegan consumer audience, along with changing perceptions of the vegetarian audience, and introduce them to the health benefits of jackfruit.
Are your brands available Pan India?
So as of today, we supply pan India through our website. We have distributors in the cities like Goa, and Chennai, and have appointed a super stockist in Maharashtra. There would be around eight distributors in that region. Delhi and Bangalore are already in our list and very soon we will have distributors in all these regions.
How big is the export opportunity?
On the export front, we have already exported to Dubai, Norway, Netherlands, and will soon be exporting to the USA, Canada, and Mexico. We are also in the process of closing a deal with another 10 countries for the export.
What is your game plan for the growth of the company?
The game plan is to go out in multiple directions and alternatives. The biggest market that we foresee is exports, and we are going very aggressively as far as exports is concerned. We are also looking at educating people and making them realize the importance of mock meats and what can be made out of jackfruit in India domestically and therefore we are moving very fast in appointing distributors across India, that's how we are spreading horizontally in the country. We are also going very hard on D2C and the online medium and we foresee a lot of sales happing there as well.
Are you looking at developing beverages or wine perhaps with Jack Fruit?
We are planning to launch more food items and also some beverages soon.
Which other fruits do you plan to use?
At Wakao, we are passionate about healthy, sustainable food. Our goal is to bring ethically sourced, sustainably grown food to our customer's dinner tables and explore alternative foods in our search for wholesome products that are good for our customers' health and also great for our planet. We are exploring kokum, mango, and a few other fruits.
Are you looking at inorganic growth at some point of time?
We are looking at a combination of both organic and inorganic growth because D2C works on a push model where we have to try and reach out to maximum customers by way of ads and performance marketing and as well as another thing that is very important for us is word of mouth, we want our customers to talk about us and to write about us and happy customers are the best source of more customers, therefore, looking at a good mix of both.
How big is your production capacity?
We have sold to more than 10,000 D2C customers over the last 10 months and it's only growing. We are currently available in Pan India through various D2C online channels and marketplaces. We are on Amazon and we have already sold in 24 states in India through the channel. We also sell a lot through our website and other market places. We have an offline presence in Goa and distributors in cities like Chennai, Bombay and Pune. We are looking at appointing at least another 7-10 distributors over the next three months across different cities in the country. We can easily do a capacity of 50 tons a month.