Millets are coming, move over maida

Chennai (IANS) Move over maida, Millets are coming in. The shelves in retail stores seem to be conveying the message these days.

Not only raw millet packs, one can now see ready-to-cook millet based food packets like upma, kichdi, idli, dosa and even noodles and pastas adorning the retail store shelves.

Their makers also loudly claim ‘No Maida’ in their products as their unique selling proposition (USP).

The millet food product industry is nascent now. But it is set for huge growth in the coming years and signs are already there with big groups entering or looking at it, industry players told IANS.

The acquisition of about Rs 39 crore Kottaram Agro Foods Private Limited- makers of millet based items under Soulfull brand-by Tata Consumer Products Ltd for Rs 155.8 crore is one such sign, said industry officials.

“The maida based packet noodles market is about Rs 12,000 crore now. The millet based noodles segment is not even a drop of that, but it is growing as we see,” Vinod Kumar, Founder CEO, Satvika Bio-Foods Private Ltd told IANS.

According to Kumar, as per market studies about seven billion cups of packet noodles are consumed yearly in India.

The Mumbai based Satvika with a turnover of about Rs 5 crore makes and sells noodles and pasta made with millets, wheat/red rice under the brand Naturally Yours since June 2020.

Satvika sells its noodles online and offline (about 200 stores) and also to some restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi in bulk.

Queried about his noodles having 30 per cent of millet flour and 70 per cent wheat flour, Kumar said: “We tried different ratios including 50:50 wheat and millet flours. But the noodles break resulting in consumer complaints.”

He agreed that Satvika could have positioned the product as bite sized noodles or noodles that don’t dangle out of the mouth.

Kumar said the company is looking at coming out with small packs in the price range of Rs 25-35 while currently it sells its noodles in 180g and pasta in 200g packs and also newer variants of pasta and noodles like gluten free/moringa/cup noodles.

Industry officials said the big maida noodle players are now watching the space and when they enter the whole category will grow.

“How they would position their ‘no maida’ noodles and other items will be interesting to see. They cannot say it is a healthier option as the question would pop up whether they were selling junk earlier,” millet players said.

Be that as it may, Chennai based Southern Health Foods (P) Ltd after tasting success with its health mix -a powder made with 14 cereals, nuts and pulses- expanded into baby food, instant drinks, raw millets and ready-to-cook millet food under its Manna brand.

Speaking to IANS S. Murugan Narayanaswamy, CEO, Southern Health said the focus is on milletising Indian dishes as it will be healthier than maida or polished white rice.

The Manna brand which gained prominence with cricketer Ashwin Ravichandran as brand ambassador has millet based idli/dosa/upma/poha/kichdi/Pongal and rava dosa mixes.

Even as millet based ready-to-cook is a niche segment, companies like Sresta Natural Bioproducts Pvt Ltd and Phalada Organic Consumer Products are into a further niche segment — organic millet food packs.

Sresta Natural under its brand 24mantra sells organic ragi idli mix, millet dosa mix, ragi flakes and others.

On its part, Phalada Organic sells kichdi/bisi bele bath/biryani/kheer ready-to-cook packs.

“We are seeing good traction for millet based items. But the industry is small and it is not tracked in detail,” Raghuveer Reddy, Marketing Head, Sresta Natural told IANS.

According to him, the well known millet is the ragi. One of the issues with other millets is people’s knowledge about their cooking is limited.

“People who are above 40-45 are opting for millets. Those who are health conscious are affected by diabetes are now switching over to millet based diet. It is a new category,” Reddy added.

While millet can be substituted for rice in the South Indian diet, not many are doing that.

“My husband’s blood sugar levels went up. The doctors suggested medicines to control. I haven’t heard of a diabetic getting cured with medicines. So I decided to axe high glycemic index food like white rice and substitute with millets. The glycemic index of millets is very low as compared to rice and wheat. His blood sugar level is normal and his weight too has gone down by 15 kg in the last 10 months,” a housewife not wanting to be quoted told IANS.

“The white rice is well polished and does not have any fibre content. We have now shifted to rice varieties like red/brown and traditional ones. Though they are costlier than the white rice, it is better to pay a shopkeeper than the doctors and pharmacists,” she added.

Industry officials said after Covid-19 pandemic, people are now looking at healthier options, which millets offer.

Apart from ready-to-cook millet foods, there are pure play millet based restaurants that have come up in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Reddy said Sresta Natural also exports raw millets to the Middle East, the US, Europe and Australia where the demand is largely from the Indian diaspora.

Industry officials also point out the role played by state governments in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and now in Tamil Nadu in popularising millets.

The Central government and Niti Aayog are also talking about the goodness of millets.

“The Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh governments promoted millets in a big way and people started asking for the same,” Narayanaswamy said.

With the demand for millets increasing Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare M.R.K. Panneerselvam said the government will implement a Millet Mission to increase production of millets where the demand has started increasing.

Action will be taken to encourage value addition in minor millets and ensure remunerative price to farmers, he said.

Minor Millet rice will be procured by Co-operative societies and distributed through Public Distribution System in Cities like Chennai and Coimbatore, he added.

With the year 2023 declared as the International Year of Millets, there will be a lot of buzz about millets and its health benefits.

The industry players are gearing up to launch new products to fill the slots in various categories.

“By 2023 we hope to ship our noodles/pastas overseas. It will be our Made in India product for the world,” Kumar of Satvika said.

On his part Narayanaswamy said in five to six years millet sales will pick up globally and his company will have products in different food categories.

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