The funding round was co-led by Creadev, Desert Bloom, with major participation from Wheatsheaf, and existing investors Beta Angels and Investeco. Already in more than 1,500 retail accounts, including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Meijer, Wegman’s, Hannaford, Target (in California), and Giant, founder Annie Ryu said the funding will support existing retail partnerships and help the growing brand expand further into conventional grocery.
While still a newcomer (launched in 2020) to the plant-based meat category, which is dominated by the likes of Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and brands owned by CPG giants including Gardein (Conagra Brands), Sweet Earth Foods (Nestlé), and Morningstar (Kellogg's), jack & annie's has become the third largest frozen brand in the plant-based category in the natural channel, according to SPINS sales date for the 24 weeks ending 10/3/21. Its frozen nuggets have also become the #1 selling nuggets SKU in the natural channel.
Pioneering an entire supply chain
The idea for jack & annie's and using jackfruit as the main ingredient of its plant-based meat alternatives line began when Ryu was a pre-med student at Harvard University. Her studies and work took her all over India where she was exposed to jackfruit and the family farms that rely on the fruit as major income source.
"The work that I had done up until that point had shown me that poverty was the root cause of all the problems I was trying to solve. This was an opportunity to address that root cause issue because of this is massive added income for farming families if they had an outlet for the fruit and if the supply chain was actually there," Ryu told FoodNavigator-USA. She explained that despite the popularity and abundance of jackfruit, 70% of harvested jackfruit goes to waste.
"We started ten years ago, pioneering what today is the largest supply chain in the world for jackfruit."
The company currently works with roughly 1,000 farming families to source its jackfruit, and provides farmers with an added 10-40% to their income.
Next generation of plant-based meat?
"We really see jack & annie’s as the next generation of plant-based meat," Ryu said, noting that because of its naturally meaty and sinuous texture, the fruit can mimic a variety of animal proteins from chicken to beef to seafood.
"With jackfruit being so naturally meaty, the opportunity here is you’re able to develop foods that are more delicious, more meat-like than what’s been possible previously but also something that’s a real plant and not ultra-processed with the top two ingredients being water and a protein powder, which has tended to be the category so far."
Ryu explained that the company uses jackfruit at an earlier stage in the growth cycle when the fruit hasn't developed any of its sugars yet making it a blank canvas for product development.
Ryu acknowledged that jackfruit is not new to the plant-based scene, but that the quality of jack & annie's raw ingredient is a game changer for the category and has spurred a wave of new, better-tasting, meat-like products.
"Historically, a lot of the jackfruit in the US was barbecued pulled jackfruit, but that had a lot to do with what kind of jackfruit they had available to work with," noted Ryu, who added that with its vertically-integrated supply chain and fully traceable sourcing practices, the company is able to "unleash the capabilities of jackfruit."
Consumer awareness is also on the rise, helping the brand gain further traction at retail, added Ryu.
"In the ten years we’ve been working on jackfruit, awareness has gone up dramatically," said Ryu who explained that many consumers can now identify the large, lime green, spiky fruit and that consumer awareness is around the same level as tofu, according to Ryu.
"But," continued Ryu, "the awareness gap of jackfruit as a meat alternative is something that still exists."
New products on the way
The brand currently sells 10 different frozen and chilled plant-based meat alternative products including breakfast sausage patties, buffalo wings, meatballs, and crumbles.
"With the funding, we’re going to be able to launch more products, because there’s so much more that jackfruit can do that we’re excited to showcase," added Ryu.