How a WhatsApp Group of Jackfruit Lovers Turned Into a Startup Earning Lakhs

Food startup from Kerala

Back in 2019, on a fine summer morning in Ernakulam, Kerala, T Mohandas was chatting with his friend Anil Jose. Mohandas talked about how the jackfruits in his surroundings were wasted every day while people around the world were ready to spend hundreds to buy them from a supermarket. To this, Anil  replied, “Not even a single fruit of yours will wither from next year.”

This cryptic message was followed by Anil starting a WhatsApp group called Chakkakkoottam (chakka meaning jackfruit and koottam, meaning community). He added a few of his friends who have jackfruit trees in their home garden. The idea of the group was to bring together jackfruit lovers and farmers, and conduct gatherings to share information as well as the many varieties of the fibre-rich fruit. 

“It is calculated that only 10 per cent of the fruit produced in the state is consumed. The rest is wasted. As the fruit is largely available in Kerala, there is not much scope for direct sales too,” Anil tells The Better India.

They wanted to minimise wastage of ‘the official fruit’ of the state (as declared in 2018), and the plan was a great success. 

Within months, people inside and outside the state joined the group and held meet-ups at different locations. The members included businesspersons, government employees, photographers, IT professionals, engineers, farmers and many more. 

“The initiative attracted the attention of many who migrated to Kochi from the villages of Kerala, having nostalgic memories about their childhood filled with jackfruit and mango. During the first lockdown, the number of members surged and the group was working efficiently,” says Anil. “This group is for those who yearn for jackfruit, those who grow them in plenty and wish to share and for those who feel the need to be part of a community.”

The group gained popularity within months. Farmers within the group sold their produce to the members who missed the taste of their favourite fruit. The community was covered by the media and this brought in newer members too. 

On 4 July 2021, which is celebrated as International Jackfruit Day, R Ashok, who is a commercial photographer and an active member of the group and above all an ardent chakka lover, was invited for a talk on radio Qatar. 

During the interview, he jokingly spoke of the group turning into a company one day which would sell products made of chakka. But the group members, some of whom were from the food industry, were intrigued. 

Thus was born the Chakka startup.

Along with Ashok and Anil, Vipin Kumar, who has over 40 years of experience in the food industry, Sabu Aravind and Manu Chandran, who have been in marketing for over 16 years, and Bobin Joseph, who is an expert in manufacturing and customising machinery for the food industry, joined hands to start Chakkakkoottam International Private Limited. 

The food company aimed to produce and market several types of value-added products from jackfruit.

Food startup from Kerala
R Ashok, Vipin Kumar, Manu Chandran, Sabu Aravind, Anil Jose and Bobin Joseph– the founders of Chakkakkoottam brand.

“What started as a casual social gathering turned into a business with the passion and hard work of the members. Today Chakkakkoottam is not only an active WhatsApp group with over 500 members in each district but also a successful food company that sells unique products,” says Anil.

The brand sells items like jackfruit chips, flour, halwa, along with dry and tender jackfruit with a price range of their products is Rs 100 – Rs 1,000.

Food startup from Kerala
Some of the products by Chakkakkoottam.

They will soon be live on e-commerce platforms including Amazon and Flipkart. The items are now available in several stores like Lulu and Reliance in Ernakulam. “We hope to bring the price down once the products reach more markets,” says Anil.

Without disclosing the exact revenue figures, the company says they have been earning in lakhs. “Rather than a profit-making venture, the company is meant to celebrate the flavour of this quirky fruit as well as to help farmers in minimising its wastage,” says Anirudh, another group member. 

He adds, “The products were launched a month ago and the sales are only just picking up. The group on the other side is doing great work by holding meetings in every district. We are also planning to start a campaign to bring the issue of jackfruit spoilage to the notice of the state government and take necessary steps to reduce it.” 

“Statistics show that around 60 crore jackfruits are produced in Kerala every year out of which below 10 per cent is converted into value-added products. It is impossible to consume the produced quantity of the fruit raw. For its lifetime to be extended, it is to be converted to make more goods. Also, it helps to increase the fruit’s popularity around the world. We are happy to contribute our portion to this bigger aim,” shares Anirudh.

The company, which began in October 2021, now has a 5,000-sqft plant and storage facility on a leased property near Kolenchery. “The raw materials are sourced from the group members and other farmers across the state. So far, we have 10 distributors in the state who collect the fruit from farmers whose numbers we can’t even calculate. The fruit is seasonal so it is sourced and stored for the rest of the year. An average of 20 tonnes of jackfruit was procured this year for production,” adds Anirudh.

Chakkakkoottam is aiming for the global market and the works are in progress. “The company is not a novel idea as many similar ones exist in the field. Some of the brand’s admins are part of our WhatsApp group too. We are all focusing on the fact that the wastage of this everyday fruit is so high and something is to be done to bring it down. We are trying our best to achieve it,” says Anil. 

Interested in their products? Check them out here.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

Photo credits: Anirudh

Author: Aaron Ryan