As recent graduates of philosophy, engineering and economics, Jacked co-founders Michael Adair, Dilvir Bhullar and Josh Clarke don’t have a background in the food industry but got the idea for the business while in Uganda on a UK-government organised project to support local entrepreneurs.
It was there that they saw fresh jackfruit sold everywhere and the idea for a healthy snack business began to take shape. With a ripe jackfruit weighing up to 40 kilos, however, the trio quickly realised that dealing with the dried fruit would be more practical than fresh.
Thanks to a texture that has a meaty bite, jackfruit is the rising star of plant-based foods, and this awareness of the fruit has undoubtedly helped the entrepreneurs.
“Five years ago, no one would have heard of it so it is great timing for us,” co-founder Clarke told FoodNavigator.
That said, not many people have tasted dried jackfruit and this gives the product an innovative edge, he added.
“When used as meat substitute for vegetarian pulled pork, for example, jackfruit needs to be less ripe to give it the right texture. We use fruit that is picked two or three weeks later so people are often surprised by how sweet it is.”
Jacked's range includes plain jackfruit; jackfruit & ginger; jackfruit & chilli; papaya & lime; bogoya banana; banana chips & cocoa.
Clarke described the taste of plain jackfruit as "somewhere between a mango and banana but also with a unique flavour of its own".
“Dried jackfruit isn’t available on the UK market […] and the dried fruit market in the UK is also really not that interesting,’ Clarke added. “Some companies do banana chips or dried mango but it’s typically [retailers like] Holland & Barrett or Wholefoods selling it in unbranded packs. We’ve created a quirky brand
in what is effectively a dead space.”
Despite the name, the start-up sees itself as a dried fruit snack company, and its six-product range, currently stocked in 13 specialist shops in the UK, also includes papaya and banana.
Jacked uses whole ground ingredients to flavour the dried fruit which means each product has an extremely short ingredient list of just two ingredients, such as jackfruit and ground ginger.
Made in Uganda
The fruit is processed and flavoured in Uganda and then imported, packed and branded in UK.
“It was definitely a challenge to set up manufacturing facilities in Uganda - we can’t just fly over there every time there’s an issue – but the managing director of our supplier is American so that helps with the language barrier. It’s also necessary and adds to the story as well as bringing value to the Ugandan end because farmers and workers get paid a fair wage.”
The start-up did not disclose exact prices paid to farmers but did say that prices are pre-agreed and are more consistent year-round than the volatile market price.
Sourced from a network of farmers spread throughout Uganda allowing for a steady supply all year round, the fruit is dried in industrial oven dryers. This ensures a controlled environment and a final product that conforms to health and safety regulations.
“We work with farmers who are transitioning into organic," said Clarke. "It takes three years to be fully certified and it’s a very risky move for Ugandan
farmers to do that as they live season to season. It means three years of living with organic regulations without the benefits of higher margins.”
Jacked products are therefore produced to organic criteria but it can’t yet add an organic logo to the products. It is also considering fair trade certification in the future.
For the three co-founders, who have so far self-financed but are now looking to raise capital through a crowdfunding campaign or a Virgin start-up loan which would allow them to retain equity, having an ethical mission is a fundamental part of doing business.
Jacked has partnered with Trees of the Future, an environmental charity that works to reverse the effects of deforestation. For every pack of Jacked sold, a percentage of the profit is given to Trees of the Future, with one pack equivalent to one tree.
“It’s a fair bit of our margin but it’s an important initiative and we don’t want to lose the ethical mission we started out with,” Clarke said.