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Expo East in review

Jackfruit is ready to go mainstream with duel RTE launches

By Elizabeth Crawford

25-Sep-2015
Last updated on 25-Sep-2015 at 14:57 GMT2015-09-25T14:57:06Z

Upton's Naturals launches a line of marinated jackfruit for easy meatless main dishes.
Upton's Naturals launches a line of marinated jackfruit for easy meatless main dishes.

Jackfruit, a previously hard-to-find but popular meat substitute among vegans, is going mainstream in the US with two manufacturers launching ready-to-eat product lines featuring the fibrous plant as a main ingredient. 

The Jackfruit Company and Upton’s Naturals launched in quick succession of each other boxes of marinated jackfruit that is shredded to recall pulled meat and is positioned as a plant-based, center-of-the-plate option that can be reheated and ready in minutes.

Upton’s Naturals, an established manufacturer of flavored seitan, was the first of the two to market with two stock-keeping-units of Bar-B-Que and Chili Lime Carnitas flavored jackfruit, which is packed in shelf stable 10.6 boxes. The line launched at Expo West in March and began hitting store shelves in July, said Nicole Sopko, vice president of Upton’s.

Upton’s Naturals pole-position could give it an advantage over The Jackfruit Company, which is launching now and will hit store shelves in October. However, The Jackfruit Company offers significantly more SKUs, which means it could capture more facings and therefore more consumers’ attention. Its line includes BBQ and Tex-Mex flavors that likely will compete directly with those of Upton’s Naturals. But it also offers flavors that go in a different direction, including Sesame-Ginger, Curry and Naked, for do-it-yourself consumers who want to use their own sauce.

Both companies are angling for position in the produce section next to the other meat substitutes, such as tempeh and tofu, but only The Jackfruit Company’s products needs to be refrigerated. Upton’s Naturals is shelf-stable prior to opening.

While each company may be disappointed not to have at least a temporary exclusive position as RTE jackfruit suppliers, the closeness of the launches could benefit both firms, the same way the simultaneous launches of coconut water by multiple manufacturers helped the nascent category explode several years ago.  

A Difficult Race To Market

Both companies identified jackfruit as a product launch target several years ago, but were each delayed as they struggled to line up a steady supply of the fruit, which grows wild and in such abundance that it often is wasted.

The Jackfruit Company's line of RTE jackfruit-based meat substitutes.

The founder of the The Jackfruit Company delayed launching a packaged food line so that she could first found the Global Village Fruit – a company dedicated to creating international supply chains for jackfruit and bringing economic viability to farmers.

Upton’s Naturals also is working directly with farmers to harvest cultivated jackfruit, Sopko said.

Building awareness

The duel launches are well timed to capitalize on Americans’ increasing interest in eating healthier, given that the fruit hits on several current trends, including being vegan, nonGMO, low in carbs, allergen-friendly (in that it is free of soy and gluten) and, of course, plant-based.

But the fruit’s novelty in the US could slow adoption, which is why both companies are aggressively trying to educate consumers about the fruit’s unique cooking properties and nutritional value.

One way The Jackfruit Company plans to do this is by simultaneously increasing the ingredient’s availability through food service, which will give consumers a low-risk way to try it before they invest in a multi-serving packaged food that requires some, although minimal, effort to prepare at home, Hanna Letts, chief operating officer for the company told FoodNavigator-USA.

She added that jackfruit is gaining significant traction in Kansas City, a traditionally meat-loving location known for its barbeque. This suggests that adoption might not take the normal course of starting at one or both coasts and working inwards toward the Midwest.

Low in protein, high in fiber

Unlike other meat substitutes, jackfruit is low in protein – coming in at just 1 to 2 grams per serving in the companies’ packaged products – which could be an obstacle for sales given Americans’ ongoing obsession with consuming high amounts of protein.

Representatives from both companies were not concerned with this, however, noting that most Americans already consume sufficient protein. In addition, they said, while jackfruit may be a main dish, it often is served with rice, beans and other sources of plant-based protein, so that the overall meal can meet consumers’ nutritional needs.

And what the fruit lacks in protein, it makes up for in fiber – another hot ingredient. A serving of Upton’s Natural Bar-B-Que flavored jack fruit offers consumers 4 grams of dietary fiber, while The Jackfruit Company’s competing flavor offers 7 grams of dietary fiber per serving. 

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