Sairaj Dhond started his career practicing criminal law but soon realised that the profession was not meant for him. As a member of a leading business family, entrepreneurship was a part of his DNA and he too wanted to do something of his own. Instead of joining the family business in real estate and tourism, Sairaj decided to try something different. He had a keen inclination towards food and decided to enter the food & beverage industry.
Talking to The Vegan Indians, Sairaj, Founder & CEO of Wakao Foods, said, “During my research, I came across this whole concept of superfoods. I started looking for a product that is natural and closer to home, and that was when I came across jackfruit. Around the same time, I got exposed to veganism and realised that the humble jackfruit can play an integral role in furthering the cause of veganism. I am a non-vegetarian since birth who is slowly but surely moving to the other side now. Being a non-vegetarian, I realised that the texture and the taste of jackfruit were very close to meat, and therefore, I thought that this could be an amazing product to work upon. When I dug a little deeper, I got to know that the whole world is talking about superfoods but we Indians have not yet realised the value of the superfood that grows in our backyards; no one even cares about it! Jackfruit has a rich nutritional profile, and I thought that we could actually turn this ignored fruit into one of the biggest food inventions of modern India.”
“A lot of people like me want to switch to either veganism or a plant-based lifestyle for different reasons. Giving them an alternative makes the transition a lot easier. With the same thought, we started R&D with the help of several chef consultants. After the completion of the same, we realised that we have created a masterpiece that must go out to people in the market. That is how Wakao Foods was born.”
Jackfruit as Mock Meat
Most meat alternative brands in India use soy as the key ingredient. Wakao is one of the very few brands that has actually tried to take a different path and make use of the indigenously grown superfood to create a plant-based meat. But what are the advantages of choosing jackfruit over soy?
Sairaj told us, “Jackfruit helps the soil as well as the environment. It is also considered to be one of the most nutritious foods available and a complete meal in itself. Our product is superior to other plant-based meats in the market because it is completely natural. We are using only jackfruit and there are no chemicals, preservatives or hidden ingredients. The only processing we use is retorting, which is a heating process. According to me, jackfruit is the most natural form of mock meat and is definitely healthier. Even the texture is better than that of any other mock meat in the market. The best part of using jackfruit is that is readily available and one need not do anything special to source it.
According to Sairaj, the only challenge he faced was procurement of jackfruit as it is a seasonal fruit, but now he has mastered it. “There are certain locations in India where jackfruit is available at different times of the year and we source it from clusters of farmers in those locations. We are now planning to set up factories around such clusters. We already have one factory in Kerala and we are looking to start one in Goa soon.
Wakao Foods is offering a range of jackfruit-based mock meat products, including Original Jack, Teriyaki Jack, Butter Jack, BBQ Jack and Jack Burger Patty.
Sairaj introduced Wakao Foods to the customers after one year of intensive R&D. The company did a soft launch in December and pushed the product into the market to see how customers respond. According to Sairaj, customer feedback has been very encouraging. The company is not just targeting vegans, but also vegetarians and non-vegetarians with its products.
“Vegan customers are very important to us as they are always looking for new products, and we want to offer them something different. The response of such customers has been very encouraging. Our products are flying off the shelves in all vegan stores where we have placed our products. Besides vegans, we also want to target the non-vegetarian customer base. With them the only problem is that in the initial instance, they start comparing our products to real meat. Some of them, who are more environmental conscious or those who are on the border and want to move to the other side, are loving it. We are also getting an encouraging response from both vegan and non-vegetarian restaurants that are selling our products. The third segment – vegetarians – has been the most difficult for us as vegetarians shy away from trying anything that has the term meat attached to it. We are trying to break into that segment indirectly through caterers. People are liking it but still it is a little difficult to convince them,” Sairaj said.
Wakao Foods is currently delivering pan-India through its website. It is also focusing on offline sales and has started from Goa, where it has covered over 20 outlets. It is now moving to other cities for retail sales. Wakao is also looking at industrial sales and has started catering to the HORECA segment.
Taking Indian Superfood to the World
Wakao Foods is getting a lot of interest and enquiries from international markets. Sairaj told us that his company has already sent samples to the Netherlands and is in the process of sending the same to the UK, Germany, Canada, and the USA.
“Within one and a half months of launch, people started noticing our product. Countries like Thailand and Vietnam have converted acres of land into jackfruit plantations, whereas we are neglecting such a promising food. At Wakao, we have realised that we can meet the demand for exports and will start working towards it, but our main focus is the massive Indian market.”