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Sweet revenge: Kerala couple launches plates, straws made from wheat husk, rice powder

Vinayakumar Balakrishnan and Indira Nair

When Vinayakumar Balakrishnan and his wife Indira Nair found themselves entering their 50s and approaching retirement age, they decided it was time to pursue their dream of launching a startup. In fact, there’s a story of sweet revenge behind the venture of this Kerala couple, which now successfully manufactures an innovative line of edible plates and straws under the brand name “Thooshan,” made entirely from rice powder and wheat husk.

It took the couple four years of research and development to successfully launch their company, Vir Naturals Private Limited, and bring forth the unique products. These products have started to completely replace disposable plates and straws at events such as weddings, where food and drinks are served.

While Vinayakumar was attending an event in Dubai, he came across a plate made from wheat husk, upon which food was served. He was astonished by the product’s quality and began contemplating introducing a similar product in India. His goal was to find a solution to the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic disposable plates and straws.

Upon approaching a Polish company that possessed the technology to develop the plate, he was met with a refusal. Despite his efforts to persuade the company by highlighting the significant quantity of wheat husk going to waste in India and the potential to establish a facility for manufacturing edible plates, the company remained unresponsive to his request.

“I was prepared to provide all necessary support for them to establish operations in India, but they simply declined. I felt disheartened, yet I wasn’t willing to abandon my desire to launch a similar product in India. I conducted independent research and ultimately connected with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Thiruvananthapuram. I presented my concept to the scientists, and they eagerly began working on it. Within two years, the brilliant minds at CSIR developed the plate in their lab and granted me the green light to proceed,” shared Vinayakumar Balakrishnan with “Open Digest.”

While the scientists provided a positive evaluation for the concept after creating a prototype in their lab, transforming it into a commercially viable product for the market posed a significant challenge for Vinayakumar Balakrishnan, an MSc Geologist who embarked on his career as a medical representative.

“The words of encouragement from the scientists were immensely motivating. This prompted me to delve into researching the available technology and machinery necessary for producing plates from wheat husk on a commercial scale. We understood that rice powder and wheat husk offered the right balance of being environmentally friendly and affordable alternatives to plastic. Perfecting the manufacturing process entailed two years of experimentation, during which we designed our own machinery for the production. Eventually, we successfully streamlined everything to commence production,” Vinayakumar explained.

Today, their startup, Vir Naturals in Kakkanad, brings forth 100% compostable plates and straws to the market. These edible plates can endure hot foods and liquids but dissolve in water when ready to be composted. “The plates and straws can even be consumed if desired. People are wholeheartedly embracing our products. It’s incredibly rewarding to have finally reached this milestone after years of dedicated effort. We take pride in having created an eco-friendly alternative to plastic that doesn’t compromise on quality or affordability,” he said.

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