Poor patronage stemming from an increased preference for processed food has hit their fortunes
More than a decade ago, demanding chapatis or pooris for dinner meant someone having to spend a good amount of time at the nearby flour mill for grinding wheat. The rattling sound of the machine and the pungent odour of ground food products are a part of childhood memories for many in the city.
Now, those sounds and smells are slowly fading away from every locality as the number of mills has started dwindling with the advent of packaged food. There are around 800 flour mills in the city and suburbs and over a lakh in the State.
But there were many more some decades ago. Men and women in every house used to rush to the nearby mill for grinding various products such as wheat, rice, chilli, coriander, nuts and even shikakai (used as a hair cleanser). “The mills were introduced in 1917. At some point, the products were ground for quarter anna. Now, we charge Rs. 10 for a kilo,” says V.K. Krishnan, general secretary of Chennai city flour mill owners association and owner of Venkateshwara flour mills — started in 1947 in Geil Street in Muthialpet.
N. Siddhanathan, owner of Kauvery Flour mills in Mandaveli, recalls a time when earnings were good due to the sheer volume of customers. “My father C. Nagarathinam opened our shop in 1965. I began working with him at the age of 13. Over the years, the numbers of customers has come down. People do not have time to grind food products. Hence, many prefer pizzas and other packaged food,” he says.
However, loyal customers still help them in continuing in the profession. “Many are satisfied only with ground wheat, rice or chillies. Actor Senthil has also come to my shop many times,” says Mr. Krishnan.
While many mill owners feel that remaining in the business will be difficult with rising electricity charges, wages and poor patronage, some see a ray of hope. “People are becoming increasingly health conscious. They prefer buying products ground in front of them. Probably, the next generation will take over the business from us. There will be someone to run the show,” adds Mr. Krishnan.