Founded by Annie Ryu, a senior at Harvard University, Global Village Fruits has been in operation since 2011. SupportBiz spoke to Ryu. Edited excerpts from the interview:
What is your background?
I am currently a senior at Harvard University, and will graduate in May 2013. I am a committed social entrepreneur. Prior to launching Global Village Fruits, I worked with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, in Nicaragua, on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; built latrines, installed water chlorination units, and developed a malnutrition treatment program in the Dominican Republic; and developed and implemented a maternal and child health SMS reminder program in rural southern India.
How did you come up with the idea of starting Global Village Fruits?
The idea of starting Global Village Fruits came to me the moment I first tasted jackfruit in June 2011, in Bangalore. It was through subsequent research and work that I realized I had a viable business idea.
What is your business model?
Commercially, we buy jackfruit products from processing groups and market these products in the US. In terms of social impact, we provide information and additional income (as a reliable buyer) to jackfruit growers and processors, work to forge partnerships with and between Indian and international agricultural development organizations to promote jackfruit processing, develop and distribute jackfruit processing manuals, and hold training programs for groups who agree to work with us.
From which parts of India do you source jackfruit products?
We currently source jackfruit products from a location in southern Kerala. We are in communication with many additional groups as well.
How do you co-ordinate with farmers in India?
Members of the Global Village Fruits team who are based in India co-ordinate with farmers directly regarding cultivation and processing methods, identification of top varieties, and supplying fruit. We held a meeting for farmers in Mangalore, Karnataka, last summer. We will hold more seminars and sessions in the future.
What was the initial investment needed to start Global Village Fruits? How did you arrange for it?
I worked with friends to film a fund-raising video, which was publicized online for one month to raise $6,366 from over 160 supporters, many of whom I had not known prior to the campaign.
How big is your team?
Global Village Fruits includes me, friends in the US and India who volunteer their time and efforts to support Global Village Fruits, a team of over 12 experienced and extremely successful business advisers and jackfruit experts, a director of India operations, and a processing program trainer. We vet potential partners/owners as volunteers so that we can assess their working habits and commitment to our activities and mission: productive volunteers are then offered wages, and the exceptional are offered partial company ownership.
What are the major challenges that you face?
The major challenge right now is securing enough high-quality, standardized supply. Branding, distributing, and marketing products in the US are extremely challenging processes, for which we have an advantage. We have a US team with experience and enthusiasm and a team of expert advisers, who lead or have led highly successful enterprises.
What is your revenue model?
We develop packaging and supply it to our processing groups. Prior to the jackfruit season, we negotiate pricing with processing groups. We pay jackfruit processing groups the agreed upon price per kilogram of product. We import, distribute, and market these products in the US. Our revenues come from product sales.
How has the response to Global Village Fruits been?
I have been working directly with store buyers and likely consumers. Although the vast majority of people do not know what jackfruit is before I start talking to them, the response has been very positive.
Why did you decide to concentrate on jackfruits for this venture?
Jackfruit is my favorite fruit in the world: it has been my favorite ever since I first tasted it. It gave me the idea for the company, so the first fruit choice was straightforward.
Are you planning to include any other fruits in your product list in the near future?
We do plan to include other fruits in the future, though. We have not yet decided which these will be. Some may be gradually introduced from our jackfruit suppliers outside the jackfruit season.
What are your expansion plans?
We aim to gain national distribution and popularity for all Global Village Fruits jackfruit products in the US. Once we have gained national distribution for at least a couple of products, we will move to sales in other countries. We are striving to secure all of our jackfruit product supply from India. If we are not able to secure enough supply there to meet demand, we will work to gather supply from processors in other countries in addition to maximum supply from India. We are working to secure funding to enable us to help subsidize processing equipment for groups that supply us with jackfruit products.
Any group that works with us to receive training or funding will be able to use their skills and equipment to profit from production of other fruit products outside of the jackfruit season. Global Village Fruits may or may not purchase the other fruit products: we are working out purchase agreements on a group-by-group basis. We are seeking funding for infrastructure expansions to enable us to supply to the buyers we have already secured in the US.