Sairaj Dhond, Founder and CEO of Wakao Foods in a freewheeling conversation with FMT, provided insights on using jackfruit as a niche in the plant based market. He explained Wakao Foods’ goals for the future, the rise of plant-based diet, and latesr trends in the food industry
Could you share with our readers what Wakao Foods is all about? How did you first get passionate about the plant-based super foods space and what motivated you to start the brand?
It was a fascinating encounter. I was flipping through the pages of a newspaper when I came across an article titled “Jackfruit is the World’s Superfood.” In India, I discovered that jackfruit is the most widely available fruit. It is locally available and sourced. It was even available in my backyard as I realized that, despite the fact that I had been eating jackfruit since childhood, it had not been explored much as a business opportunity in India, and the emphasis on health has never been more emphasized than in the last few years or so, with a large section of the population reassessing what they eat and its impact on the body. A growing trend seen in India is the popularity of plant-based diets, while veganism, as a concept, has been on the rise since pre-pandemic days. Between December 2020 and April 2021, the brand was mostly present in Goa with very little D2C traction. However, the B2B side, particularly the HoReCa (hotels, restaurants, and cafes) segment, helped push the sales by 20% month-on-month.
Why Jackfruit? How did you come up with the idea of using this particular ingredient as the ultimate plant-based alternative?
As I mentioned earlier, I was browsing through newspapers when I came across an article titled “Jackfruit is the World’s Superfood.” I discovered that jackfruit is the most easily accessible fruit in India. It is locally available and locally sourced.It was even available in my backyard as I realized that, even though I had been eating jackfruit since childhood, as a business opportunity in India, it had not been explored much, and jackfruit has many health benefits as well, so I came up with the idea of using jackfruit as an alternative.
What trends are you seeing in the food industry in India and how do you plan on challenging or changing it with a more sustainable approach?
Veganism is becoming more popular as people are shifting towards healthier eating habits. Veganism is becoming increasingly popular in India. Plant-based meat products are becoming more popular. Vegan demand has grown significantly in recent years, and I believe it will soon overtake the capital market for meat and chicken.
Elaborate details on your expansion plans (National and Global).
We have recently launched Wakao Foods in Singapore. We will plan to expand to more countries by next year. We are also planning to expand both, our online and offline presence by a 60:40 ratio as according to me it is important to maintain a presence in both markets.
What are your product offerings and are there different target audiences for each of your products?
Currently, we have products related to jackfruit but in the future, we are looking to expand. We are not targeting any specific age groups. Today people are going towards more healthy eating and since covid, they are more cautious with what they want to eat. A large section of the population reassesses what they eat and its impact on the body. A growing trend seen in India is the popularity of plant-based diets, while veganism, as a concept, has been on the rise.
While more and more consumers and food businesses are opting for cruelty-free products, Is there a need to reduce the gap in the availability of high-quality plant-based food products?
Yes, I believe that with rising demand, we should work to close the gap by improving raw material availability and shortening delivery times. When it comes to what you send to your customers, I believe quality counts. We solicit feedback from our customers on what they like and dislike on a regular basis.
What is the growth in the popularity of “plant-based” meat and dairy?
As I already discussed today people are going towards healthier eating and since covid, they are more cautious with what they want to eat. A large section of the population is reassessing what they eat and its impact on the body. A growing trend seen in India is the popularity of plant-based diets, while veganism, as a concept, has been on the rise.
What was the rationale behind sourcing Jackfruit as the base ingredient?
The jackfruit has been an obvious choice of product for its versatility, meat-like texture, and nutritive value (high in fibre, low in calories and fats). All Wakao products have no preservatives with a shelf life of 1 year and require no refrigeration.
Do you think plant- based meat industry will impact the market of traditional meat considering the growing popularity of vegan meat products among consumers?
I don’t believe it will have an impact on the traditional meat market because it is so large, but it certainly has the potential to make a significant dent in market share, and I believe that over time, many people will choose plant-based over traditional meat for a variety of health, cultural, or environmental reasons. Plant-based meat will undoubtedly take a larger market share in this category over time.