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Vegan food line concocted by Mayo High School graduate fills 3,000 retailers

Annie Ryu's jackfruit-based meat substitute line, jack & annie's, has grown in popularity since the brand's 2020 launch amid a national trend in using jackfruit as a vegan meat alternative.

Jack & Annies
A selection of Jack & Annie's frozen goods on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Fresh Thyme in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Among the grocery store shelves of popular meat substitute brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats sits a less recognizable line of vegetarian nuggets, “sausage” patties and links called Jack & Annie’s.

Although this line sold at Fresh Thyme is not Minnesota-manufactured, the meat-substitute brand was founded by a 2009 Mayo High School graduate, Annie Ryu.

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While still in high school, Ryu was an avid tennis player and violinist before heading onto Harvard University where she planned to study on a pre-med track.

Now, her jackfruit-based products fill refrigerators across 3,000 national grocery stores, one of which is Rochester’s Fresh Thyme.

Her tennis coach at Mayo High School, Jeff Demaray, recalled some of Ryu’s accomplishments from her tennis career.

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According to Demaray, Ryu was a “tremendous player” for Mayo, who won a state doubles championship and played three singles during her final season.

“She was extremely smart on the tennis court,” Demaray said. “It was a lot of fun coaching her.”

When Ryu’s interests in health care and medicine brought her to India in 2011 where she planned to implement a maternal and child health care program, she ended up finding the inspiration for an ethical and sustainable meat alternative.

Upon seeing her first jackfruit in a street market, Ryu saw the potential in this nutrient-dense fruit, and from there started the Boulder, Colo.-based The Jackfruit Company and a newer line, Jack & Annie’s.

According to Fresh Thyme Assistant Store Director Schuyler Spring, products from the Jack & Annie’s line have been moving “pretty well” compared to similar products.

Spring said, in general, Fresh Thyme sells a lot of jackfruit, whether that’s whole, frozen, canned or in products like Jack & Annie’s meat substitute.

“It has really become a lot more popular,” Spring said.

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According to Spring, jackfruit has become more popular among vegan shoppers or people just looking to eat a healthier diet.

What sets Ryu’s products apart from competitors like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and Morning Star is their nutritional value. The product is made from the fruit itself, not from processed soy products.

This stand-out quality of Jack & Annie’s led Ryu to be selected as the 2022 “Mindful CEO of the Year” among 1,650 nominees, which is a recognition given to leaders of transparent, fair, natural, healthy and sustainable companies.

Forbes reported that while vegetarian alternatives to meat are necessary to combating climate change, many brands fall short nutritionally; it recognized Ryu’s Jack & Annie’s as one company that uses minimal processing and is “nutritionally superior” to animal protein.

Jack & Annies
A selection of Jack & Annie's frozen goods on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Fresh Thyme in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

The increased use of jackfruit as a vegan meat substitute has boosted global demand and driven market growth. According to the market forecast for jackfruit, the market has a projected compound annual growth rate of 3.3% between 2021 to 2026.

One benefit to Jack & Annie’s, according to Spring, is that the products retail for cheaper than brands with name recognition like Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods.

The four products from Jack & Annie’s sold at Fresh Thyme all cost $5.99, while Impossible Foods' prices sit at $8.99 for similar products in similar sizes.

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While Spring and other Fresh Thyme shoppers might not have initially known the jackfruit-based products were started by a Rochester native, Ryu’s use of jackfruit instead of the more common soy- or pea-based meat alternatives sets Jack & Annie’s apart from competitors as it rises in national popularity.

Bella Carpentier is a journalism and political science student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN-TC). She is currently the managing editor of the student-run paper at UMN-TC, the Minnesota Daily. While reporting for the Minnesota Daily, she covered student activism and issues affecting the university's student body. Working for the Post Bulletin, Bella hopes to build community connections and advance her reporting skills. Readers can reach Bella at bcarpentier@postbulletin.com.
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