The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets, a proposition set forth by India and backed by 72 countries in order to establish the country as the Global Hub for millets. Back in 2018, millets were declared as the 'Nutri Cereals'— given the wholegrain packs in high nutritional values—as well as declared the year to be celebrated as the National Year of Millets. From this point onwards, the cereal and all its variants have garnered immense popularity among people of all age groups and demographics. What was once referred to as a 'poor man's food' was soon gaining the eyeballs to become the go-to choice, right from flours, breakfast cereals and DIY mixes like cakes, pancakes and more, to ready-to-eat snacks like chips and biscuits that swap heavily processed ingredients with millets.
Millets and millet-based dishes have been long-standing in our vast culinary history, used in traditional and simplistic recipes like our homely bajra ka rotla in the hot arid regions or a jowar ki roti staple to certain South-Indian states. However they did take a backseat for quite a while, before their benefits were unearthed once again. Keeping in mind the changing times and how the world has fastened its space, we are going back to our roots but with a different route this time. Enter a plethora of ready-to-eat snacks that champion a variety of millets to make snacking sessions healthy and guilt-free. And to explore this very market, we got in touch with the founders of Mighty Millets, Meena and Sahil Jain, a mother-and-son duo, as well as Shauravi Malik and Meghana Narayan of Wholsum Foods—the parent company of well renowned brands like Slurrp Farm and Mille—both millet-based brands that propagate the idea of healthy-eating with their extensive range of snacks, breakfast cereals, dessert mixes and more.
The beginning of a journey To get the ball rolling we asked the co-founders of Wholsum Foods, Shauravi Malik and Meghana Narayan what inspired them to take a step in the direction of millets, to which they replied that 'Slurrp Farm was born when we became mums ourselves. We wanted high-quality and nutritious food options for our own children but were unfortunately unable to find anything. The market lacked options that could be trusted, making it fairly clear to us that there was a giant-sized gap and we were determined to do something about it. We dug into recipes our grandmothers favoured, revisited ingredients like millets from our own childhoods and found ways to make them tasty. Six years later, here we are.' On the other hand the co-founder of Mighty Millets—a healthy snacking brand started by nutritionist Meena Jain and her son Sahil Jain—Sahil said 'I am a chartered accountant who had been working in a multinational company and during that time I started thinking of, rather wanted to, start a business of my own but had no headway. At the time my mother was a well-respected nutritionist and her career as a nutrition consultant was also booming. And she'd give out a lot of these healthy recipes, a number of them featuring millets, as a part of her lifestyle or diet change plans, so we always knew there was a market and great potential for something as ordinary as millets. Initially our plan was to venture into the fresh food sector, but after some research it became very clear that rather than going through the preparation phase of eating something healthy, people preferred a quick snack here and there throughout the day. In 2018 we launched a few snacking options and distributed them to my mom's clients and a few people we were close to, to which we got a pretty good response. And once I gained confidence in the idea I put down my resignation papers at the MNC and since then have been dedicated to Mighty Millets.'
The rise of the millet Millets were once an intrinsic part of our diet but over a period of time they seem to have lost their popularity among the general public. While people have now started revisiting these recipes, we cannot ignore the fact that the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) sector has played a significant role in this. 'Millets have always been consumed in our country. What I think led to the decline of the millets is the simple fact that the general public was not as privy to nutritional benefits of the cereal as they are now. The green revolution definitely made grains like wheat and rice a popular choice and with changing times people also drifted towards refined products due to ease-of-availability. However, in my opinion, 2018, the National Year of Millets, shed light on this Nutri Cereal. I think that's also the time when millets started gaining popularity even among the millennial and Gen-Z crowd, owing to the number of seminars, activities and government initiatives in this space. It was a stroke of luck for us to have launched around the same time even though it was completely unintentional. We launched a host of products from healthy savouries and maple-based granolas to nutritional bars and powder-based mixes that instil the idea of healthy eating without having to compromise on taste', said Sahil Jain, when we asked him for his thoughts regarding this. 'Millets such as ragi, jowar, and bajra have been consumed by different communities across the country since ages, until the monocultures of wheat and rice found their way onto Indian plates. However, consumers across the country are realising that millets are truly supergrains. They are good for us and the planet. The grains are a rich source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals and at the same time, they are hardy grains that require a third of the water as compared to rice. At Wholsum Foods, we are committed to reintroducing millets to a healthy balanced diet for children and adults alike' said Shauravi Malik and Meghana Narayan.
Gearing up for 2023: the International Year of Millets Understanding the importance that this year holds for millet-based brands across the country, we just had to ask our guests how they plan on gearing up for this year. '2023 is going to be an exciting year: it is the UN-designated International Year of Millets. With the government's thrust on export, we are confident that the market for millet-based products will only grow exponentially. 2023 will also have us expand our international presence significantly. Slurrp Farm is already present in more than 15 countries, including markets like the USA, Europe, UAE, and Singapore. We've seen stellar growth in these markets, and are committed to growing our presence in each of them by at least 30-40% in the next 12 months. With the launch of Millé, there is immense scope for us to build awareness and generate demand for millet-based products both in the country and globally,' said Meghana and Shauravi excitedly. Taking a look at what Mighty Millets has in store for everyone this year Sahil said, 'just creating awareness around millets is not going to help, in my opinion. In this day and age, whatever is easily accessible and consumable is what will end up being the popular choice, especially keeping in mind our younger target audience. So naturally, our focus has always been on developing exotic or palatable flavours when it comes to snacks and savouries to reach our audience, and will continue to be. We are working with chefs and a number of five-star restaurants in order to create and innovate newer and better flavours as well as organise millet-themed festivals to create more awareness. We are also working with a couple of restaurants to curate more millet-friendly menus.'
India is responsible for production of approximately 80% of Asia's total global production and 20% of the world's, undoubtedly making it the largest producer and the fifth-largest millet exporter in the world. One of the oldest crops to be domesticated in the country and since then been a part of our diet, this year will surely see some interesting fairs, melas and mahotsavs propagating the cause of millets in the country. The Green Revolution may have shifted the focus from this smart food for a while, but we are also gradually witnessing a change in eating-habits and lifestyle. The day millets make a full comeback is really not that far, and when that day comes, we'll definitely be here for it.
Natasha Kittur is an aspiring writer. Her love for anything with cheese and spice is profound, but a white sauce pasta always tops her list. In her free time you will catch her reading or watching crime books and shows or go on and on about psychological experiments and theories. She aims to write a book in the fictional genre someday.