The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. India is fast catching up with the western world in millet consumption, said N. Murugan, CEO, Southern Health Foods, makers of the Manna brand of foods. Excerpts:
Millet-based products are fast gaining acceptance in the West. How is the scenario in India?
India, Nigeria and China are the largest producers of millets in the world, accounting for more than 55% of the global production. For many years, India was a major producer of millets.
However, in recent years, millet production has increased dramatically in Africa. In India, pearl millet is the fourth-most widely cultivated food crop after rice, wheat and maize. It occupies an area of 6.93 million hectare with an average production of 8.61 million tonnes and productivity of 1,243 kg/ha during 2018-19.
Why is India slow in adopting millet-based products?
Millets are available almost across India. They need very little water for growing.
The awareness of the benefits of millets is still low and this is the reason for lesser number of players working on value-added millet products in India.
However, we see this increasing in the coming years as many States will start supporting millet cultivation both on account of the benefits and the fact that they need less water.
So, we see a slow expansion of millet-based products in the next few years and a big explosion in these products after that.
Why are many firms not keen on entering this sector?
There are only a handful of players in the branded and/or in the organised sector at the moment. However, it is going to change in the next 12 to 24 months.
How does Southern Health Foods fit into this?
We want to make many foods and beverages more nutritious for consumers through millets and multi-grains. Most of our products have a high percentage of millets in them.
In a country such as India where there is a high incidence of diabetes, millets, being complex carbohydrates with low GI [glycemic index], are indeed wonder grains and [hence] we see a huge relevance in shifting consumers to millets and millet-based products.
We will communicate the same to consumers through the media.
We want to be one of the pioneers in leading the country’s millet revolution that, we are sure, will happen soon.
Your growth strategy?
Ours is a food and beverage company that wants to make consumers healthier by increasing the nutrition content in food intake.
Apart from having health products, the company is looking to expand its portfolio through relevant innovations in the health-food space. Products under Manna, our Made-in-India brand, are also exported to countries around the world.
We will keep researching and formulating new millet-based food products that will help in improving the nutrition quotient of what consumers eat everyday.
So, innovation, consumer awareness and engagement are the cornerstones of the strategy. Our aim is to introduce at least one new product every quarter.
What is your target for the next two years?
Our goal is to improve the share of millet and millet- based value-added products in our portfolio from the present 60% to 80%, double the number of products and distribution channels and increase distributors by 30%. The share of e-commerce is about 8% and this is set to increase.
On the pandemic’s impact on your operations...?
Our sales did not drop as 80-90% of our volume came through sales of health-mix products. Currently, we operate our units at 70% to 80% of capacity in a single shift and this will increase with an increase in demand.
The lower demand also means limited supply and higher prices. This will change as more consumers start trying out millets and value-add millet products.