View: Tune in to millet sur mera tumhara

India celebrated 2023 as the International Year of Millets by hosting the Global Millets (Shree Anna) Conference last month. FMCG, consumer goods and food processing companies can be the flag bearers of making the millets mission a success by bringing these grains to the main course.

Jowar, bajra, ragi, etc, are already consumer brands products. Millet-based chips, cookies, noodles and other prepared foods have also gained popularity. The industry’s next steps should be to make millets a permanent way of life rather than a passing trend. Businesses must adopt a pragmatic approach, and research conducted on currently available food items considered to be high on fats or carbs. Adding millets may improve the nutritional and health quotient of these food items.

Take a vegetable burger. It would be incomplete without a potato patty. But with millets, the right balance can be achieved where the grains can substitute some part of potato without compromising on taste. Democratising millets across daily household consumption categories will further increase its dietary diversity.

The versatility that millets boast of, present a great opportunity for companies to dabble in different food baskets, including frozen snacks, muesli, granola or Indian breakfast staples such as idli-dosa mixes, upma, poha or ‘superfoods’ and even desserts such as cake mixes. Companies need to experiment with newer ways of integrating millets in recipes of different food products.

Small enterprises, self-help groups and direct-to-consumer brands could already be producing, selling and stocking interesting millet-based products. They, however, may lack scaling opportunities. Large corporations can support the mission with a ‘millet entrepreneur model’. FMCG companies, with their existing marketing, sales and distribution channels, can partner with these emerging players and microenterprises.

The ‘millet entrepreneur model’ will assist the consumer sector to quickly introduce products in tandem with the policy push being given, instead of having to start from scratch. The FMCG industry also has the chance to use exports to expand their domestic millet innovations outside the country. It has the power to raise the profile and spread the popularity of millets like jowar, bajra and ragi. Excellent examples from which to learn are quinoa (native to Peru and Bolivia), qats (origin in Europe), avocado (originally from Mexico) and soy milk (origin in China). These ingredients are now considered ‘premium’ products, the ‘premium’ quality being a key selling point.

GoI is to further position India as a global hub for millets. Right global branding of ‘Shree Anna’ has the potential to support the country’s 2.5 crore farmers whose livelihoods depend on growing millets. India’s millet products in international markets will expand this ‘millet economy’ and provide a new revenue stream for the industry.There is likely to be an increased need for associated solutions, as millets take up more space on household shelves. Although niche innovations like the ‘millet mixie’ – a device that separates millets from chaff – are currently in use at the local level, there is still room to expand their use. Such solutions can be introduced by consumer white goods firms as part of a ‘millets product line’.

Social initiatives like Farm Easy (a   collective of engineers and entrepreneurs), started by the Watershed Support Services and Activities Network (WASSAN), succeeded in developing a millet mixie that can be used for processing minor millets at the household level. A pilot, conducted in Andhra Pradesh, led to over 200 women operating minor millet mixies and turning into micro-entrepreneurs by providing services to their neighbours for a fee.

Consumer companies can engage people by encouraging them to include more millets in their meals. 360-degree marketing initiatives, public relations, advocacy, participation in food festivals and use of digital channels are some of the key tools to drive this change.

The big switch to healthier ‘Shree Anna’ may take time. But with the power that consumer sector companies yield in influencing change, compounded with GoI’s earnest efforts in taking millets from farm to fork, this will only mean a healthier population, environment and economy.

(The writer is CEO, Godrej Tyson Foods)

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