How this Kolhapur engineer built a Rs 1.5-crore pineapple and corn processing business in Tripura

A holiday trip to Tripura led Adwait Kulkarni to set up a food processing plant in Kumarghat, the state’s highest pineapple producer. He has also introduced corn farming in the area, providing assured livelihood to 60 farmers and 30 underprivileged women

Partho Burman
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Adwait Kulkarni at his food processing plant in Kumarghat, Tripura

Adwait Kulkarni at his food processing plant in Kumarghat, Tripura

Adwait Kulkarni's life changed forever after a holiday trip to Tripura in 2017. The mechanical engineer from Kolhapur, Maharashtra, was spellbound by the vast expanse of pineapple orchards in the northeastern state. Lured by the greenery, pineapples and friendly locals, he began visiting the state frequently to understand the entrepreneurial opportunities Tripura offered. 

Adwait visited many villages in Maharashtra and Tripura between 2017 and 2020 and found that pineapples in Tripura were not only cheaper and juicier, but were also cultivated on a larger scale compared to other states. Tripura’s Queen Pineapple variety also received the geographical indication or GI tag in 2015 and is the official fruit of the state.

He discussed it with his father, a mechanical engineer running a business in Ichalkaraji, Kolhapur. His father suggested a food processing business to minimize the wastage of fresh local produce would be a good idea. “One of my father’s friends who worked in this sector provided me with the necessary technical guidance,” says the 33-year-old.

Adwait bought a defunct 20,000 sq ft unit within the Tripura Industrial Development Corporation Ltd in Kumarghat and redeveloped it to set up his food processing unit -- Nunsei Fruits & Vegetables Products Industry in May 2021. 

For the Darlong tribe, who mostly cultivate pineapples in this region, Nunsei is the Goddess of Fruits.

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Processing Tripura’s pineapples

Kumarghat is the highest producer of pineapples in Tripura and most people here pursue its cultivation. Kumarghat supplies the fruit to neighbouring states. However, due to a lack of well-developed transportation facilities, selling pineapples remains a challenge for farmers. 

women working
Women working at the pineapple processing plant. Pic:  Nunsei Fruits & Vegetables Products

“There are only two processing units in this area, including ours. The aim behind setting up the factory here was to provide assured income to farmers and minimize food waste while canning good quality pineapples,” Adwait says.

In just three years, his firm reached an annual turnover of Rs 1.5 crore (FY24). Adwait expects the number to grow to Rs 3 crore this fiscal.

Pineapple is harvested twice a year in Tripura. The first season runs from May through July, while the second one is from October through mid-November. The two types of pineapple grown in Tripura are the Queen and the Kew. The Queen pineapple was named the official fruit of Tripura by former Indian President Ram Nath Kovind on June 7, 2018.

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Each piece of the Queen Pineapple variety weighs around 600 to 800 gm and has a distinct aroma. It has more spikes than other varieties. The golden fruit is juicy and rich in vitamins but performs poorly when canned. 

Kew pineapple, on the other hand, matures later and is prized for its canning quality. A Kew pineapple is between two and three kg and is highly resistant to heat processing.

Empowering farmers

Adwait has tied up with local farmers to procure their produce regularly, providing them with an assured source of income. He procures about 4,000 partially ripe pineapples daily from 60 local farmers.

The monthly production is around 75,000 cans. Pic:  Nunsei Fruits & Vegetables Products

Nearly 90 percent of the pineapple growers belong to underprivileged communities and the factory has improved their socioeconomic status. “The farmers now have a dedicated channel for sale,” he says.

“I buy pineapple at around Rs 10 to 15 per piece, depending on its size. For farmers, pineapple farming is a major source of income,” he tells 30Stades.

On the production floor, 30 women workers remove the pineapple rind and chop the fresh fruit into equal slices. The pieces are then processed at 12 to 13 degrees Celsius and sweetened with sugar syrup before being placed in a tin container. For preservation, citric acid is used. The product has a two-year shelf life.

“We produce 2,800 to 3,000 cans daily. With around 25 working days a month, our monthly production is around 70,000 to 75,000 cans,” he says.

Each tin contains about 10 or 12 slices of pineapple, weighing about 850 gm. “We produce for third-party buyers and the MRP is Rs 180-200 per pack,” says the 33-year-old food entrepreneur.

“We supply to Delhi, Kolkata Guwahati and other cities depending on the demand,” he adds.

Introducing corn farming in Tripura

Adwait also facilitated the introduction of corn or maize farming to Tripura. “When our maize contract farming experts from Maharashtra met with officials of the State Agricultural Department, they were receptive to our proposal. Since then, our company has partnered with the State government to grow maize. The government supplied seeds and helped with soil preparation to encourage farmers to plant maize. A pilot project was also conducted in three districts,” says Adwait.

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Maize plantation begins in mid-November and the crop is ready by April, just after rice is harvested. Two farmers from Maharashtra were invited to assist the local farmers with technical know-how. They spent 30 days helping around 100 local farmers with maize farming. 

Canned products are ready for shipment. Pic:  Nunsei Fruits & Vegetables Products

The corn crop is grown over 30-40 hectares right now. About 70 percent of the growers belong to various tribal communities. 

“In the next two to three years, corn will be cultivated under contract farming. The farmers will receive the seeds and guidance, and we will take the responsibility for its procurement,” Adwait says.

“Currently, we produce canned baby corn. The unit can process 4,000-5,000 kg of maize every day. The crop quantity is decreased to 1000-1500 kg after the pericarps are peeled off,” he points out.

According to Adwait, lack of good transportation makes a food business difficult in Tripura. Due to distance and topographical challenges, it is not easy to ship commodities and obtain raw supplies from Guwahati. Giving two instances, he says the citric acid is purchased from the Guwahati market since it is unavailable in Tripura and the tin containers are procured from Delhi. 

“I am targeting annual revenue of Rs 8-10 crore in the next few years. In addition to setting up a unit for dehydrating fruits and vegetables, I am also considering a foray into ready-to-eat foods,” he adds.

(Partho Burman is a Kolkata-based award-winning journalist. He writes inspiring human interest and motivational stories.)

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