James Joseph quit a high-flying corporate career to give the humble jackfruit a profile upgrade
Venemenkil chakka verilum kaaykkum (if there is a will, jackfruit will grow at the root) goes a Malayalam proverb. James Joseph seems to have taken the saying to heart, taking the golden fruit to new palates – from the traditional payasam and jam (chakka varatti) to ravioli and barbecue. And that’s not all.
In June 2021, during the peak of the second wave of Covid in India, Joseph thought the time was ripe for another innovation. Having introduced freeze-dried jackfruit with Jackfruit365 to make the seasonal fruit available round the year, Joseph turned to its nutritional value.
Flour made from unripe jackfruit helps patients with Type-2 diabetes replace rice and wheat in their diet and bring down their blood sugar, a fact validated by a study published in the journal ‘Nature’.
Armed with this scientific evidence, Joseph relaunched green jackfruit flour in July 2021. “Since then, we have seen phenomenal growth. On Amazon alone, within one year, the sales revenue grew from Rs 1 lakh per month to Rs 1 crore per month. Ours was the third best-selling product in grocery and gourmet foods on Amazon after Maggi noodles and Tata salt,” says Joseph. To avoid stock-out, he says, they had to cut down on marketing of the product.
An engineer by training with a master’s from University of Warwick in the UK, Joseph worked in high-flying corporate positions with the likes of Microsoft, Ford and i2 Technologies across three continents before deciding to do something down to earth and indigenous back home.
Having grown up in Kerala where jackfruit (chakka in Malayalam) is ubiquitous, Joseph decided to begin with his favourite fruit. Jackfruit was the common man’s staple but Joseph was convinced it could go places. When he asked chefs in India why the jackfruit wasn’t their go-to ingredient in gourmand dishes, they told him it wasn’t available round the year, it was messy to handle in the kitchen and often, the aroma of the fruit was too strong for customers.
Jackfruit365 was launched on October 2, 2013 (much before the Kerala government declared jackfruit as its official fruit in March 2018), to promote freeze-dried jackfruit, with an aim to create an organised market for jackfruits in India. “Every time a challenge is thrown at me, I have to go and beat that. I don’t know what is not possible,” he says. Five-star kitchens were among the first destinations for the freeze-dried product.
“My second serendipitous moment came when I realised that the properties of freeze-dried jackfruit are such that it could be powdered and easily combined with traditional meals, adding fibre and making them healthier, without changing the taste of the dish,” recalls Joseph. He now has a patent for jackfruit flour that has nutritional value.
A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study result published in ‘Nature’ showed a continuous decrease in mean blood glucose of diabetic patients in seven days of administration of jackfruit flour in meals. “Every day, we procure jackfruits from all over Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Availability of jackfruits is high in India, and 80% of it goes waste. Now with the demand high for the product, we are expanding our capacity by three times,” he says.
Joseph’s factory in Kolencherry, a town near Kochi, is also undergoing an overhaul. Machines are being upgraded to increase production capacity from 10 tonnes per day to 40 tonnes. That would require 4,000 jackfruits a day, from the current 1,000. Here, Joseph’s mechanical engineering experience came in handy.
He designed a machine that can convert a whole unripe jackfruit into flour. “This will increase production and reduce wastage. A worker can give 20 kilos of jackfruit slices per day for the flour, while now with the machines we can manage 500kg. But the biggest issue was not the quantity, the problem was that a worker starts cutting in the morning and by evening when it’s time to make the flour, the vegetable starts to ripen. But now with the machines, the fruits are cut in bulk and immediately put into the machine,” says Joseph. He has applied for a patent for the machine.