When Anil Jose, an engineer-turned-activist, started a WhatsApp group in 2019 little did he know that he was laying the foundation stone for a company. Jose, a biomedical engineer based at Palarivattom in Kochi, started the chat group named 'Chakkakkoottam' to bring together those who like jackfruit which was declared the official fruit of Kerala in 2018. Jackfruit is called 'chakka' all over the state.
The group was meant to share information on jackfruit's availability and organise small gatherings for the members to enjoy its various delicacies together. Four years after a series of fruitful discussions and sessions hosted by it, a flourishing food company has sprouted from the group.
Six members of the group have founded the Chakkakkoottam International Private Ltd which produces and markets a variety of value-added products from the fibre-rich fruit. Though the WhatsApp group was an idea of Jose, the company is the brainchild of R Ashok, a jackfruit-loving commercial photographer, who joined the collective later. Ashok went on to become an admin of the group and then the managing director of Chakkakkoottam International when the company was formed in October 2021.
Ashok shared his dream of bringing out a global brand out of the WhatsApp group in an interview he had given to a radio in Qatar in 2021 in the context of the World Jackfruit Day which falls on July 4 every year. The interview triggered a buzz among the group members of the possibility of starting venture and it became a reality as six of them came forward.
The other founders are Vipin Kumar who has over 40 years of experience in the food sector; Sabu Aravind and Manu Chandran who have been into marketing for over 16 years; and Bobin Joseph, who is an expert in manufacturing and customising machinery for the food industry. Five of them live in and around Ernakulam city while Bobin Joseph is settled at Perumbavoor.
“I have been a huge fan of jackfruit since my childhood and I came to know about the Chakkakkootam group through an article I read in Malayala Manorama. Then I joined the group and became active in it. We used to arrange small gatherings that turned out to be something like jackfruit festivals. When Covid struck the world and lockdown started, more people joined the group. During the pandemic we collected and served jackfruit to a lot of people. Now there are four groups run by us,” Ashok told Onmanorama about the origin of the company.
The group members include people from different parts of the world and various walks of life. Many of them have already been into jackfruit-related farming and businesses also.
“We are able to find jackfruit, our main raw material, from the group. There are farmers, harvesters and sellers among us. If we order a certain quantity of the fruit, we would get it the next day. We collect the fruit in bulk during the season and keep it in cold storage for the rest of the year. A variety called Vietnam Early has yields twice a year and it helps us procure more fruits,” Ashok said.
The company has set up a 5,000-sqft plant and storage facility on a leased property at Kadayirippu near Kolencherry. The products include, Kerala's popular ripe jackfruit chips, green jackfruit flour, jackfruit halwa, chilly tender jackfruit and dry jackfruit.
The chilly tender jackfruit (idichakka) is a ready-to-cook product. The chips are air-fried using only a small amount of cooking oil.
The products are sold at malls of Lulu and Reliance and e-comm platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart and Diaguncart. The company does direct distribution in Ernakulam district and in other parts of the state it has engaged distributors. Now, efforts are on to find a way to the foreign markets even as competing with some big players who have already realised the potential of the once-ignored big fruit.
The company displayed their products at the recently concluded Vyapar B2B meet organised by the State Industries Department at Kaloor International Stadium Ground. Its products were received well at the recent India HoReCa Expo held at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, the founders said.