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INTERVIEW

“We have a mission to utilise jackfruit as a novel new ingredient”
Monday, 12 September, 2022, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Eat With Better is a plant-based foods brand which brings this meat alternative to the dinner tables across the country with its range of ready-to-cook mixes. It offers home cooks the chance to whip up restaurant-quality dishes at home using tender jackfruit without the fuss of elaborate preparations. The plant-based snacks are made of jackfruit that brings in trend for vegan and vegetarian food amongst the people, said Karan Bajaj, co-founder, Eat With Better, in an email interaction with Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:

How has 'Eat With Better' performed since inception?
This start-up is founded by me and Keertida Phadke, who became friends over their shared interest in jackfruit. Our long-term plan is to make this underutilised local superfood a household ingredient. We have done fairly well considering that we are still a very early stage brand that is trying to introduce a new ingredient the jackfruit in the ready-to-cook category that has not traditionally seen much success in India. We launched on the 21st of June 2021 and in our first year we sold over 10,000 units of jackfruit to more than 3,000 customers, as well as selling close to 700 kg of our jackfruit to around 6-7 restaurants across Mumbai.

How did you opt for jackfruit to develop your range of plant-based snacks/recipes and would this company be in the category of plant-based meats?
Here at Eat with Better, we have a mission to utilise the potential of jackfruit as a novel new ingredient and to integrate it into more and more people's diets by dispelling the not-so-positive notions around it and making it a more mainstream food option.

As with all great origin stories, the decision to work with jackfruit was entirely incidental.  Back in 2018, the market was devoid of any plant-based meat analogues, so we took this as positive encouragement to set up a business to promote this fruit. We eventually ended up launching our brand in mid-2020 with a bunch of vegan snacking options which we were selling through stores in Mumbai and Pune, before we finally started selling jackfruit in the middle of 2021. Currently, we do not see ourselves as an alternative to meat as there are better brands that do it, but with our new product launches like nuggets and samosas made using jackfruit, gives us the confidence that we think we can establish in the plant-based meat category.

Share the range of products and which of these products are the fastest growing?
Currently we have 3 products. The first is the Jackfruit Original - Shreds & Chunks. The second is the Jackfruit Ready to cook Meals as Chettinad and Tawa Fry flavours. Salsa Macha  which is not  jackfruit based is a Mexican chili oil that became very popular in New York in 2020. We did some trials to make this and it turned out to be just good. We are possibly the only brand in India that bottles this chili oil.

The runaway hit among all these products is the original jackfruit chunks, which we only manufactured a limited quantity which is less than 3,000 pieces as we wanted to test out the product, and the response was phenomenal. We sold out of the product in less than 6 months.

Where do you source the jackfruits from and is it a seasonal fruit? How do you sustain your manufacturing operations?
The jackfruits are sourced from Devgadh in Maharashtra, which is coastal town in the Konkan belt. The region is known for its ecological richness and diversity and along the jackfruit the areas we source from are replete with other agricultural produce such as kokum, mangos, cashew, pepper, jamun and bananas, to name a few. We source directly from smallholder farmers through a single intermediary. This ensures that they are fairly compensated for the jackfruit that we procure from them in absolute numbers. We pay them Rs 10 more per kg than what they would get from the markets. Currently we do not have our manufacturing unit as we buy directly from our supplier who manufactures the products as per our specifications.

An estimated 70% of the jackfruit produced in India goes to waste every year, due to scattered demand and lack of processing facilities. Share your comment.
This is true because jackfruit is by default one of the most prolific crops to exist. It takes no planned irrigation to grow; it doesn't need pesticides or fertilisers to grow and survive, as the fruit is naturally hardy and pest resistant. Not to mention that every fruit weighs anywhere from 15-35kg, and every tree yields 100+ jackfruit on average. The fruit grows so well that farmers and even people with jackfruit trees in their backyards have no idea what to do with it. We receive at least one email weekly from customers who have jackfruit trees in their backyard and would like us to procure some for nominal rates as they are also just looking to get rid of them. However, as much as we would love to, we cannot do that because the most challenging part about the jackfruit value chain is not procuring it; it is processing the fruit.

Which are the markets showing huge demand?
The leading markets which drive the maximum demand for our range of products is from Bengaluru followed by Hyderabad. Then there is considerable interest evinced from both  Mumbai and Delhi where the requirement from the two metros indicates need for neck-to-neck supply orders.

Are exports among your game plans to garner revenue growth?
Our intent is to consolidate in the domestic market which shows promising growth prospects. Hence exports are not on the radar for the present. Not yet.

Where is your manufacturing facility?
Our production unit is at Devgadh, Sindhudurg district. Better's Jackfruit Original offers the base ingredient of plain shredded raw jackfruit. For food connoisseurs that need Better’s three flavours Chettinad, Tawa Fry, and Vindaloo represent the regions that have a long tradition of cooking with faux meat.
 
The company is committed to bringing great products to everyone, from lifelong vegans to vegetarian people who just want to eat more plant-based foods, and brings this meat alternative to dinner tables. To offer more delicacies made of jackfruit, the brand has joined hands with the famous Chef Thomas Zacharias who is armed with nearly 15 years of professional cooking experience. He was also the head chef at one of the most popular restaurants in India, The Bombay Canteen. With this association, the chef wants to create some game-changing recipes for 'Eat With Better' made of jackfruit for vegan meat lovers.

Going forward, what are the future efforts and plans?
Our vision is to get to a point where we can scale up jackfruit consumption so much that we can plug in the processing gaps in the country's significant jackfruit growing belts.
 
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