Ready-to-eat food products witnessed an immense surge in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. With countries on lockdown and most people working from home, ready-to-cook food products were flying off the shelves over the last few months.
Ready-to-eat food can also be termed convenience food. Millennials spend most of their income on convenient ready-to-eat food products. The convenience level of such products helps to increase the total demand in the market across the world.
Ready-to-eat food products are being considered the closest alternative to regular food, which can be consumed at any time (such as during breakfast, lunch, or dinner). In India, the preservative-free ready-to-cook food market has a lot of potential as the pandemic changed a lot of beliefs. In fact, it is speculated that this change in consumer behavior is likely to uplift the market in the near future.
According to research by Mordor Intelligence, “The global ready-to-eat food market is projected to register a CAGR of 4.89 percent, during the forecast period of 2022-2027.”
The ready-to-eat food market is segmented by product type, distribution channel, and geography. By product type, the market is segmented into instant breakfast/cereals, instant soups and snacks, ready meals, baked goods, meat products, and other product types.
But before settling for a brand, today’s consumer is more tilted towards the taste, flavor, convenience, nutritional value, etc. Health being the bigger concern for today’s progressive consumer makes the process of finding healthy ready-to-eat food more complex. Setting aside all the confusion in the industry, launched in 2020, Wakao Foods made it quite easier for the consumers who want to have the comfort of ready-to-eat food, but in a healthy and nutritional way.
Sairaj Dhond, Founder and CEO, Wakao Foods shared, “The food start-up space always excited me and the lockdown gave me the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into it. That’s when I came across this article which said ‘Jackfruit is the superfood of the world’. Its nutritional value and meaty texture literally blew me away. I realized that we were literally sitting on a huge opportunity, which needed to be explored. Jackfruit is the most easily available fruit in India. It is locally available, locally sourced, in fact, it is available even in my own backyard. It’s just that no one ever paid attention to it, or bothered experimenting with it and ignored the potential it has had.”
“Doing a business setup during the pandemic and traveling for business purposes during the pandemic was really challenging. I used to travel to Kerala and different parts of India, setting the business up and communicating with people became very difficult as everything had to be done online. Setting up the distribution network started with Goa then we moved to Chennai, now we are in Maharashtra in Pune, and we are supplying Pan India,” he added.
The company stands for creating a better tomorrow – one where humanity thrives, with products that are curated from ethically grown and sourced produce that is then hygienically processed and packaged. Wakao ensures the highest standards of safety and eco-friendly practices in all aspects of their business. Going forward, Wakao intends to keep sourcing alternative foods that are good for both people and the planet. Every time consumers buy something from Wakao, 1 percent of the sales proceeds go to local farmers around India who are working to feed our country.
Retail and Marketing Strategy
Wakao Foods knew that they have a product that is new to the industry. In fact, it is as good as a category creation and once you have a ready product in hand, the next thing to do is to reach out to consumers and educate them first about what is the product. Wakao Foods is all about, the nutritional values, benefits, and new varieties that can be explored with Jackfruit.
On the retail and marketing front, Dhond said, “From our pricing strategy to combos, selecting the target market to be very specific on the communication front on how to run ads, all checkpoints were pre-decided. We were very sure about what customers we wanted to target, and what the brand positioning was to look like. We wanted to position Wakao Foods as a premium category brand and tap the newly converted vegan consumer audience, along with changing perceptions of the vegetarian audience, and introduce them to the health benefits of Jackfruit.”
Going D2C lets a brand interact with the customers directly and gather that data to generate actionable insights. Most importantly, the direct and authentic engagement with customers often lets the brand know the ‘why’ behind each action of the consumer, and that helps the brand gain a better understanding.
“Expanding via D2C (direct-to-consumer) is our primary focus as it’s the next big thing in the world. We are seeing a lot of people who are really excited about these new things that are coming up. Meat and plant-based alternatives are just at the tip of the iceberg in India and it’s going to explode. Wakao is aiming to create offline properties in the future, India’s top D2C and e-commerce players, and many more. And as far as the export markets are concerned they are mature markets already. They have been waiting for a product like ours. And it’s just that we have to reach there and give them our products,” Dhond asserted.
The company ensures that all the products they offer have no preservatives with a shelf life of 1 year and require no refrigeration. The company values include supporting indigenous agri-practices, fair prices for farmers, prioritizing top-quality natural produce, and bringing it at the best available value for its customers.
”The brand offers five products, three are ready-to-eat and two are ready-to-cook. In the ready-to-eat, we have Butter Jack Barbecue and Teriyaki Jack. In the ready-to-cook, we have Raw Jack and Burger Patty. This is for the retail range, in the industrial range, we have 2 kg packets of Raw Jack fruit and 3 kg packs of burger patties (20 patties in one box). We have over 15 new products in the pipeline which would be introduced periodically over the next few months,” he explained.
However, Wakao Foods believes in taking one step at a time, Dhond said, “There were challenges and there will be more, but you know during those challenges you have to really push and take it forward and that’s what really helped us.”
On the expansion front, he added, “We want to build a very robust distribution network across India. We would have our distributors in most of the major cities across the country so that we can reach out to more and more people, retail outlets, and modern trade outlets. The HoReCa segment is really very big, they need a product like Wakao and our aim is to reach each one of them. Currently, we are supplying pan India, to a lot of chains, hotels, and restaurants from Goa but we want to centralize it and have more teams across the country. On the D2C front, we are looking at pushing strongly with our online presence and having a wider reach to a wider audience, and getting more people to try our product. The sky is the limit, we have huge opportunities in the global market because people are already aware of the product and therefore we are putting more effort into exports. We are also thinking on the line of QSR service, which we probably may launch sometime later but it’s something that is there in our expansion plan.”
“Wakao received funding of Rs 75 lakh Rs for 21 percent equity from SUGAR Cosmetics, MamaEarth, and Emcure Pharmaceuticals in the 1st edition of Shark Tank India, however, we are exploring more options to raise funds and might close something very soon,” Dhond concluded.