In Union Budget 2023, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman announced the Shree Anna scheme to encourage millet cultivation as well as companies which made value-added millet-based food products. The year 2023 was also declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Millets. One year since, FMCG majors have been making serious efforts to mainstream millets into their product portfolio. Millets are no longer premium superfoods, which are beyond the reach of the common consumer. “The coinage of ‘Shree Anna’ propelled the pride of millets. The overall awareness took a significant jump,” says Prashant Parameswaran, MD, Tata Consumer Soulfull.

Tata Group’s FMCG major under its brand Soulfull aims to mainstream millets. Not only has it launched a host of on-the-go snacks and ready-to-cook millet options, but it is also making sure that the products are priced affordably at Rs 5, Rs 10 and Rs 15 price points. Tata Consumer Soulfull’s strategy of mainstreaming millets is based on four pillars – high quality; democratic pricing; ensuring accessibility through the length and breadth of the country and finally ensuring that millets are cool and good-for-you ingredients.

Rival ITC has a host of millet-based products ranging from atta and batters, ready-to-cook khichdi, mixed millet jaggery churma and poha under the Aashirvaad brand. It also has millet cookies and granola bars. Its hotels also offer a millet menu to the guests. ITC is also powering an agri value chain in millets and has signed public-private partnership projects in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Nestlé India’s R&D Centre, which is a subsidiary of Nestlé S.A and a part of Nestlé’s global R&D network, has signed an MOU with Nutrihub-IIMR to collaborate in areas such as millet processing, health and nutrition benefits, millet sustainable regenerative agriculture practices and start-up collaborations.

“Nestlé India has launched several products with millet as a key ingredient. These products include Nestlé CEREGROW, Nestlé KOKO KRUNCH, Nestlé a+ Masala Millets, MAGGI oats noodles with Millet Magic and Nestlé MILO Cocoa-Malt Milk Beverage with Indian Millet,” says a company spokesperson. 

Marico not only acquired value-added millet products start-up True Elements in 2022, but it has also been enhancing its millet portfolio under the Saffola brand. “We recognised a rising trend of conscious indulgence at convenience. Therefore, we decided to pack the nutritious value of our Indian super grains, fondly called Shri Anna with delectable flavours that tempt the Indian taste palette. We designed it in unique formats to appeal to the varied consumer preferences and moods,” says Shilpa Vora, chief R&D officer, Marico. 

Marico too has signed an MoU with NUTRIHUB and the Indian Institute of Millets Research (Under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research). “Through this partnership, we aim to promote millets through our differentiated product offerings. We are confident that this MoU will enable us to experiment more with millets and make the ancient grains more mainstream in the Indian diet in the long run. Through this partnership, our objective is to develop unique millet offerings that are both delicious and nutritious, further seamlessly integrating with desired consumer experiences,” explains Vora.

Saffola’s millets portfolio includes products such as Saffola Oats Gold, its entire Saffola Masala Oats range contains 16% millets such as ragi, bajra and jowar. It also has a millet-snacking portfolio with products such as Saffola Masala Karara Crunch (which has 25% millets) and Saffola Munchiez Ragi Chips.

“When we talk about high-quality products, we talk about products that are not just delivering great nutrition, but also taste good. It needs to be consumed on a regular basis, it can’t be occasional consumption,” explains Parameswaran. Tata Soulfull is operating in categories such as mini meals and on-the-go snacking. It has millet choco sticks, which are priced at Rs 5. Similarly, its masala oat with millets priced at Rs 15, claims Parameswaran, is a hot seller in states such as Bihar and UP. These products are being distributed through the company’s salt and tea distribution networks.

If you wonder why none of the millet products contain 100% millets, the biggest challenge in mainstreaming millets is its coarse structure and taste. A 100% jowar, bajra or ragi product is unlikely to attract Indian consumers. The trick lies in mixing them with other grains. No wonder Tata Soulfull choco sticks have 20% millet, while the millet content in Saffola Masala Oats is 16%. After all, Indians are obsessed with taste.

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