As we come to grips with the need to transition towards greener, cleaner, and more sustainable ways of living, almost all areas of our lives are seeing a driving change. From the way we travel to the clothes we wear, to the way we clean our homes and how we fuel our bodies. A green transition is significantly underway. In India, the plant-based food revolution is quickly picking up steam with more and more brands coming up with innovative ways to replicate the texture and flavour of meat while being sustainable and earth-friendly. “A large portion of the population is reconsidering what they eat and how it affects their bodies. A growing trend seen in India is the popularity of plant-based diets, while veganism, as a concept, has been on the rise,” explains Wakao Foods Founder Sairaj Dhond. As the country’s first brand to make use of Indian superfood Jackfruit, this Goa-based sustainable business is offering a fresh approach towards meat consumption for a happier planet in the future.
From being a criminal lawyer to becoming a sustainable entrepreneur, Sairaj Dhond has come a long way, knowing deep down that his passion lied in becoming an earth activist any way he could. With Wakao Foods, he offers a range of naturally grown, plant-based products in ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook forms that won’t make you miss meat. Sairaj speaks with ThinkRight.me about how Wakao Foods is prioritising the planet while keeping the flavours of India in mind.
ThinkRight.me (TRM): Could you share with our readers what Wakao Foods is all about? How did you first get passionate about the plant-based superfoods space and what motivated you to start the brand?
Sairaj Dhond (SD): It was an intriguing encounter. I was browsing through newspapers when I came across an article titled “Jackfruit Is The World’s Superfood.” I discovered that jackfruit is the most easily accessible fruit in India. It is locally available and locally sourced; it was even available in my backyard. As I realised that despite the fact that I had been eating jackfruit since childhood, as a business opportunity in India, it had not been explored much. And the emphasis on health has never been more significant than in the last few years or so, with a large section of the population reassessing what they eat and its impact on the body. A growing trend seen in India is the popularity of plant-based diets, while veganism, as a concept, has been on the rise since pre-pandemic days. Between December 2020 and April 2021, Wakao Foods was mostly present in Goa with very little D2C traction. However, the B2B side, particularly the HoReCa (hotels, restaurants, and cafes) segment, helped push the sales by 20 percent month-on-month.
ThinkRight.me (TRM): This is fairly well known by now, but could you outline the impact of meat production on the environment? Why do you think people should switch to plant-based food?
Sairaj Dhond (SD): In my opinion, people are becoming more health-conscious, and as a result, they are becoming more selective about what they eat. A large portion of the population reconsiders what they eat and how it affects their bodies. A growing trend seen in India is the popularity of plant-based diets, while veganism, as a concept, has been on the rise.
TRM: How are you, as a founder, positioning your product as you approach commercialization?
SD: As a founder, I believe that one should have a thorough knowledge of the product whether it is going on a small scale or large scale. In my opinion, quality should remain consistent with the products and they must become more viable commercially so they can be consumed and wanted by more people. Our vision is to make Wakao Foods loved by Indians and across different countries.
TRM: What trends are you seeing in the food industry in India and how do you plan on challenging or changing it with a more sustainable approach?
SD: Veganism is growing day by day, people are leaning towards healthy eating. In India, veganism is rapidly increasing. Plant-based meat products are gaining popularity. Demand for vegan food has increased significantly in the last couple of years so I think it can take over the capital market of meat and chicken any day now.
TRM: What previous work experience have you been able to transfer to this wonderful plant-based enterprise?
SD: The most important thing that I learned is to take feedback constructively. When building a brand that a lot of people consume, it is important that we listen to what people have to say and keep improving because that is the most important way to keep a brand moving forward. Another thing that we learned is that to stick to our principles, we should not compromise on quality.
TRM: What’s the most challenging part of what you’re doing: creating a new product or creating a new market?
SD: In my opinion, creating a new product is not as difficult as creating a new market because that is like introducing innovation in the market. When you are creating a new market, you need to educate the people and explain to them the concept of the market because there is no ready market or clientele.
TRM: Do you think the post-pandemic era will bring a significant change amongst consumers toward more sustainable and climate-conscious alternative foods?
SD: The pandemic has changed the perspective of people, as I mentioned earlier. Also, people are becoming more health-conscious, so they are becoming pickier about what they eat. A large portion of the population reconsiders what they eat and how it affects their bodies. A growing trend seen in India is the popularity of plant-based diets, while veganism, as a concept, has been on the rise.
TRM: How can people who are just learning about plant-based alternatives get involved in this sustainable movement? What are a few things that you suggest they do?
SD: In my opinion, people should start by trying out plant-based products as the first step and if they like the products, they can talk about them. In today’s day and age, it’s all about organic; “content is king”. All the inorganic modes of marketing are diminishing very quickly, so today people are very engrossed in what content you are bringing out to social media and how you interact with your consumers, how you are interacting with your consumers, and how you are educating your consumers. All of our efforts are going into building educational content where we engage with our audience and consumers more aggressively. Telling them about the uses of our products, other than that we are looking for many collaborations, where we can collaborate with different brands and try to make a bigger impact.
TRM: As a plant-based business owner, what does mindful eating truly mean to you?
SD: I think it is very important to watch what you eat, as it is easy to get carried away and eat a lot of rubbish. It is very unhealthy and unsafe for your body in the long run, and you should be very clear about what is going inside your body and what it contains. It’s time to wake up and realise that if you have to live a healthy and long life and give justice to your work, you should start eating healthy and balanced meals.
TRM: And lastly, being a business owner must be such a high-pressure job, can you share with our readers a few mindfulness tips that you consciously practice daily?
SD: Yes, being a founder is very stressful and difficult at times, so one should have a positive way of mind as it’s easier to get carried away and go into a shell. Try to find solutions whenever you think you are stuck. The most important thing that I do to keep myself positive is to work out even when I am travelling. Also, I make sure that I work out for at least 30 minutes, and I like spending time with my family and playing games with my son because it’s very easy to walk down with pressure in life and forget about things that you like.