Karana claims to be the first whole-plant based food brand in Asia. Its first product is made from organic young jackfruit sourced from Sri Lanka and will be launched in Singapore, where the firm is also based, within the next four to six weeks.
“We use a proprietary natural processing technique to enhance the already meaty-texture of jackfruit, using no heavy processing or harsh chemicals. It’s a purely mechanical process and we add some natural flavourings, but that’s it,” Karana Co-Founder and Co-CEO Blair Crichton told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We see various options in the meat alternative space now, but many of these rely on the processing of common ingredients such as soy or wheat. There are many conversations going on now about health issues that may come with heavily-processed plant-based foods, and we wanted to offer another option to that.
“This is especially so here in Asia where diabetes and obesity rates are high and consumers are looking for healthy alternatives.”
Unripe jackfruit on its own carries a neutral taste, so making it into a meat alternative is very much about the texture.
“In Asian food, a lot of the taste and flavour comes from spices and seasonings, so what we focused on was making the texture meatier. After processing, eight out of 10 people we did a test with could not tell that it was not meat,” said Crichton.
That said, he stressed that the aim here was to grow the plant-based meat market as an alternative option for consumers with a wide variety of choice, and not compete with other plant-based firms.
“The meat market is huge and can fit many players – the objective with these meat alternatives should be to take a share of the market from the meat sector, and not so much to compete with other plant-based meat firms,” he said.
The health and sustainability benefits of jackfruit are numerous too: It is low-GI, high in fibre and potassium, and an extremely high-yielding fruit.
“Upwards of 60% of the world’s jackfruit crop goes to waste as there is just too much of it, and it uses very little water to grow too,” he added.
“This high yield also means that the plant is very scalable, and it also grows very well amongst other crops hence aids biodiversity and sustainability, something that is important to us.”
Launches and new products
Karana is also looking to differentiate itself from the plant-based crowd by developing items that are more ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat, such as what it expects to be its signature development, the jackfruit-based pork Char Siew Bao (a traditional barbecue pork bun in Chinese cuisine).
“Our focus is very much on making Asian comfort foods from recognisable ingredients, and we felt that baos (buns) and dumplings would also offer an element of convenience to consumers,” said Crichton.
“The aim is to launch in Singapore first, then concentrate on the rest of the APAC region, before going beyond to look at Western markets, but we certainly already have some ongoing conversations with strategic partners in many places.”
The firm’s jackfruit-based pork will first be sold in a B2B format as shredded and minced meat to food service outlets within the next few weeks, then only as ready-to-cook home products later in the year.
“We saw a few delays when COVID-19 hit and the lockdowns started, especially in processing and manufacturing, but are definitely still working on it now and are targeting to launch in the next four to six weeks,” said Crichton.
The same has gone for regional expansion to APAC, which Crichton said is estimated to take place within the next 12 months.
NPD and innovation
Within the jackfruit space, Karana is already looking at developing more ready-to-cook products, but also plans to add other plants to its portfolio in the longer term.
“The target will be other whole-plant ingredients that are native to South East Asia, fruits and otherwise. We want those with a similar profile to jackfruit, in that it must be scalable, widely available and have a good sustainability footprint,” he said.
“In that sense, one of the areas we will look at will be waste streams and underutilised crops, so perhaps ingredients or by-products that are discarded during current food manufacturing processes.”