In the last three years, The Jackfruit Company has grown business five-fold across the US with its range of jackfruit-based frozen entrees, marinated meal starters, bulk jackfruit for foodservice and sweet ripe snack pieces.
This month, the company delved into a new category with a line of microwaveable jackfruit-based ready meals and also launched a ready-to-eat smoked, pulled jackfruit.
In the meat case
Annie Ryu, founder and CEO, said it was the latter pulled pork imitation that should get the brand noticed by a wider consumer group in store.
“We're really excited about the smoked, pulled jackfruit. It's a product where we've marinated and smoked jackfruit just like you would with pulled pork, and that's something we've been extremely excited talking to meat buyers about.
"We're able to show them a product that looks and tastes like meat and it's really easy to explain. We've had a very positive reception from meat buyers about that product and we're excited to have it placed in certain retailers alongside animal meat,” Ryu told FoodNavigator-USA.
Whilst she said the product would also be tested in other areas of the store, depending on the retailer, a prime slot next to refrigerated animal meat created huge growth potential for the brand.
“We originally started in the refrigerated meat alternative section of the store, and there you're talking to a consumer who is leaning more towards vegetarianism, veganism and has chosen to live that lifestyle, who is going to be an early-adopter of products like this. And that consumer is always going to be extremely important for jackfruit.
"But where we see the opportunity to grow, is with the much, much larger – in terms of number of people – segment of people who are eating meat but looking to eat plant-based because they know it's better for them and the planet.”
Ryu said The Jackfruit Company had already tapped into this consumer group to some extent, but the smoked, pulled jackfruit variant and ready meals would garner increased interest.
Strong growth opportunities in foodservice
However, retail wouldn't be the only growth avenue for The Jackfruit Company in the coming years, she said - foodservice would also be extremely important, particularly in the drive to get jackfruit to a wider audience.
Last year, the company doubled its foodservice business and Ryu said it planned to continue the push even further this year.
“We're focused on how to partner with foodservice to be able to get jackfruit on restaurant menus and in college and corporate cafeterias to be able to get jackfruit to people who are looking to eat plant-based periodically or routinely. People are spending one out of every two dollars in foodservice, so it's a great time and opportunity to trial.”
There would also be a firmer push in digital marketing and taste demos throughout retail, she said.
“It's a fruit, right? And you might think it's going to be sweet but [unripe] jackfruit is the meatiest plant on the planet, it almost acts a little bit more like a vegetable – it's not sweet at all. So, part of the challenge is not just about creating awareness, it's also about getting it into people's mouths.”
'Any new product where you currently see meat is a place where jackfruit could be'
Ryu said the five-year plan was to work out how to get jackfruit “part of mainstream consumption”.
“It's an interesting and exciting time for our company. It's rare for there to be a totally new food to the US but even rarer for the food to be such a fundamental main part of consumption - it's not a supplement-type product, it's not a side, it can be part of the meal or snack. Any new product where you currently see meat is a place where jackfruit could be.”
Asked if she was scared of competition in the market, she said: “We're really focused on how to build awareness and build consumption for jackfruit so, in a way, having other players is helpful to spread the word and create awareness. But at the same time, we've been in the marketplace since late 2015 and there haven't been as many competitors as you would expect introducing a totally new food. And that speaks to the fact there are significant barriers to entry and building a supply chain for this food that has been on this planet for thousands of years and hasn't come to the marketplace before.”
The Jackfruit Company now works with more than 1,000 farming families across India to harvest jackfruits from the wild and has several processing plants in the country to wash, peel, cut and par-cook the jackfruit ahead of final product preparations. The company also helps its farmers get organic certified for their other crops.