Nishad K PIllai, an engineering graduate in his thirties, entered his parents’ business as a novice after having a stint in a job of his educational background. But, it did not take long for him to realise that business is his cup of tea. Once he joined his parents’ organisation, NIKASU Group of Companies specialised in the ready to eat, that is, ‘heat and eat’ food items, he got familiarised with what is going on there. He learned the nitty-gritty of the business– Procurement, production and exports. At that time, vegetarian items like Idli, dosa, chatni, sambar, vada, samosa, spring rolls, etc. were the frozen ‘heat and eat’ food items which NIKASU was exporting to the USA, the UK, Australia, and some East European countries.
Domestic market and consumers were not at all familiar with the NIKASU products as their factory was established in Special Economic Zone (SEZ), Kochi. The rules prevailing there do not permit the company to sell their products in the domestic market; the products were intended solely for exports as per the rules. When Nishad Pillai entered the fray, he kicked off a factory outside SEZ under a different banner so that he could sell his products to the super market chains in the country. His endeavour was to increase the market feasibility of different products both inside and outside the country. Still his uncompromising love was for Kerala’s ethnic products. That is how he glued his eyes and heart to Kerala’s own jackfruit.
Jackfruit is abundant in Kerala. The trees grow sans demanding any care, pesticides or even manures. They give very big fruits with tasty bulbs (the fleshy edible portion of the fruit). Almost 95 per cent of the parts of the fruit can be cooked for curries when it is in raw phase. But, once it is ripe, it is sweet and delicious as honey. Tests and experiments have proved its nutritious as well as medicinal values. Nishad Pillai made experiments with the semi ripe jackfruits. Thus, came the products like noodles, spring rolls, dosa, idli, cookies, etc., all made of semi ripe jackfruits. He even successfully used jackfruits to give flavor to ice creams. The products have already hit the markets in the UK and Australia and are getting an overwhelming response from consumers. Now, the Research and Development (R & D) wing is going to satiate the tastes of US clientele.
Nishad did not mind to share with Organiser weekly the methodology he has adopted to make jackfruit a delicacy raw material for the aforementioned products. After cleaning semi-ripe jackfruits, its seeds have to be removed. Then the fruits have to be dried and ground into paste form (batter) fit for making dosa, idli, etc. It can also be used for cooking uttapam, a sought-after Southern item, laced with onions, tomato, etc. The Asians, especially, South Indians and Sri Lankans are the best clients for these products, Nishad says.
Nishad’s another innovation is to make cookies from jackfruit seeds which are otherwise cooked as a curry in Kerala and to some extent in Tamil Nadu. Seeds are to be peeled; then the brown barks on the seeds are to be removed mechanically (and then manually) and then dried and powdered. Now, it is ready for making cookies. These cookies got a wide acceptance in the UK, the USA and Australia. The idea is very much laudable in the wake of the gloomy fate the jackfruit seeds face in Kerala households: Most of the home makers throw them away due to the time taking job of skinning and peeling of the seeds! People ignore the scientific findings that it carries good volume of starch and other nutritious elements. Latest reports from Dubai suggest that jackfruit seeds cost a price equivalent to Rs 2,300 per kg while cashew nuts cost Rs 1,645. Now, the acceptability it carries in Gulf region is equal to those of almonds, pistachio nuts, cashew nuts, etc. Now, the jackfruit seed has dominated the markets even in Brazil. Consumers are mainly the nationals of Philippines, Indonesia and South American countries. Nishad’s novel ideas will definitely give impetus to the jackfruit farmers who are not getting good prices for their products since the last few decades. This is the result of the new generation’s lack of interest in this God’s own fruit. Once the jackfruit becomes a darling of food industries’ raw material market, lot of poor land lords will get some reasonable amount of money to make their both ends meet.
Nishad’s next innovation is Spring Huts selling Indian food items. Its establishment is envisaged as joint venture with the land lord: NIKASU does the investments and promotion while property will continue to belong to the landlord. First one is already launched in Croydon, London. Nishad works on the international launching in various countries. Spring Hut will serve as both the take away vendor and eatery pub.
He has almost succeeded in getting the catering contracts for some European royal families.
Nishad is optimistic about the victorious leap forward in his entrepreneurial march. He believes, guidance of his parents, especially, his father KK Pillai, MD of the NIKASU Group of Companies and a prominent VHP functionary, is a precious factor in making what he is now. KK Pillai is the government-nominated Advisory Member of the Additional Skill Acquisition Programme (ASAP), recently launched by the government of Kerala. He is also the president of the SEZ Industrialists’ Association, Kochi. Nishad takes pride in the fact that astronaut Sunitha Williams had taken with her the NIKASU-made samosas during her space craft odyssey. His father came to know about this when Malayala Manorama newspaper revealed that Williams had taken away the samosas with her; and, of course NIKASU-made samosas dominated the US market.
T Satisan (The writer is a Kerala based correspondent)
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