While volunteering in India as an undergraduate student, Annie Ryu fell in love at first sight. What she saw at the market wasn't tall, dark, and handsome. It was a spiky, green fruit she had never seen. The huge fruit she was looking at was the jackfruit, the largest tree born fruit in the world.
Fascinated, she researched the fruit and ate them. Many of them. So much so that she'd soon be known "The Jackfruit Lady." The jackfruit, which tastes different in its various stages, has many nutritional benefits. It's high in vitamin E, magnesium, fiber, potassium, and manganese.
It also tastes great! The jackfruit is incredibly fibrous and has a meaty texture similar to pulled pork. When ripe, Annie describes it as, "a combination of pineapple, banana, and mango." That sounds delicious!
The meat industry is the second largest contributor to global warming. The problem is, many meat alternatives don't taste too great. But what if someone could create something that did?
Annie Ryu had an epiphany shortly after: by marketing the jackfruit all over the US as a meat-alternative main dish, she could create jobs, fight global warming, and improve human health. When she returned to campus, she said no to a Fulbright scholarship and no to medical school. Instead, Annie created The Jackfruit Company.
She figured out how to start a company in India, though she had zero knowledge of the food industry. She contacted farmers, local providers, and vendors to create a supply chain for the jackfruit. She bootstrapped the operation for years, concocting flavors in her own kitchen. The flavors that Annie now offers includes: Teriyaki, Curry, Tex-Mex, and BBQ. More are on their way.
But it hasn't been easy for Annie. "I was working all hours of the day,” she said, describing her early days. "Initially, you're doing everything," she expressed. Her first three shipments were disastrous and had to be dumped. As she hired people, she realized how little experience she had as a manager. “Becoming a good manager was a whole new learning curve,” she said.
Yet Annie Ryu kept pushing her limits. “I had the conviction that what I was doing was the right thing to do, even though there was so much more to learn," she said as she thought about all the benefits the jackfruit would bring to the world.
The company grew and grew, and they now run a factory in India and is generating jobs for 50+ locals.
Annie was recently named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for social entrepreneurship. In this episode, she also talks about her relationship with her Korean father, her aspirations, personal struggles, personality test results, and why she decided to start a social enterprise instead of a traditional nonprofit organization.
You can buy The Jackfruit Company's products online or near the tofu and meat-alternative sections in Whole Foods, Wegmans, Safeway, and other supermarkets.