There are multiple factors that are currently driving millet consumption in India. The primary reason being the increasing urbanization levels which have led to changes in food consumption and lifestyle habits among consumers. Modern consumers are increasingly fitness-savvy and wanting to focus on health and wellness, especially in the current context. But the key is to give them healthy offerings like millets in a product form that they can easily integrate into their lifestyles.
Also, the rise in disposable income and acceleration of e-commerce is enabling consumers to experiment with their food choices opting for premium healthy food offerings. Millets come with a number of key health benefits. Apart from being sustainable and highly nutritive; they are 3-5 times nutritionally superior to rice and wheat; their high fibre content and low glycaemic index offer a number of health benefits.
The explosion of brands working with millet is to deliver nutrition and not just as a product. There is an increasing awareness among the consumers on the benefits of millet-based products and hence leading to the increase in demand for the product.
Millet products are targeted at convenience-seeking and health-conscious consumers who are seeking food options that fit in with their lifestyle. Right from a 6-months-old baby to a 60-year-old, millets consumption can benefit one’s health in several ways.
Prashant Parameswaran, MD & CEO, Tata Consumer Soulfull Pvt Ltd, stated, “Tata Consumer Soulfull’s products are targeted at convenience-seeking and health-conscious consumers who are seeking food options that fit in with their lifestyle. We focus on 2 consumer groups, Kids and Adults. We have targeted these groups basis the consumption of millets and where we expect the growth to be.”
Meghana Narayan and Shauravi Malik, Co-Founders, Slurrp Farm, added, “Our target audience is health-conscious parents who want to make sure their family's diet is free of maida, refined sugar, harmful additives, and preservatives.”
Prabhu Gandhikumar, Co-Founder of TABP Snacks and Beverages, said, “Most of the respondents were from the age group of 35 to 44 years (48 percent), followed by 30-34 years and 24-29 years respectively. We mainly concentrate on Tier -1 Tier -2 cities.”
Pandemic Increases the Demand for Millets
With growing concerns around health and immunity, traditional millet is starting to get its due as super grains. We’re definitely seeing a surge in the demand for products that are millets-based. People have become more health-conscious in this pandemic and there has been an increase in the consumption of millets this is one of the reasons like there is a demand and that has turned into a boon to farmers who have increased the sowing area for millets. This situation has brought a positive impact on people as they turn towards millets as they want to boost their immunity levels.
Prashant Parameswaran explained, “Post the pandemic, we have seen an acceleration in certain consumer trends. There has been a spike in products that offer health & wellness, and immunity benefits. This trend will continue to stay as people are understanding the importance of building immunity through lifestyle changes. This has in turn led to a heightened awareness of millets as a staple. There have been various reports that have shown the immunity-boosting benefits of millets and why they are an integral part of the Indian diet.”
Innovations Brought in Millet Products
Brands are having a continued focus on innovation. One way of making millets more attractive to consumers is to innovate products that incorporate them smartly without compromising on the taste and nutritional benefits.
Meghana Narayan and Shauravi Malik said, “In the last 18 months, we have launched more than a dozen new products, including cake mixes, superfoods, such as jaggery powder, and chia seeds, and coconut oil.”
Prabhu Gandhikumar stated, “We give our product, which is filled with nutrition, and taste and we also make the servings easier by providing per serving in individual pouches.”
Prashant Parameswaran added, “We track consumer trends closely and will make sure we continue to offer consumers products that meet their lifestyle needs in a healthy manner.”
Pushing the Brand Digitally
Since the pandemic struck, the brands have been marketing to their consumer primarily through the digital audience. They use social media and their own website to share campaigns that tell the story of their brand as well as educate and inform people about what they stand for and why it matters.
Prabhu said, “We have made our brand digitally reachable to the audience using various platforms like Instagram, Facebook, etc. People can easily reach us through these sites and place the order.”
“Like any new-age brand, we plan to have a strong focus on digital and leveraging e-commerce platforms in a great manner. As omnichannel is swiftly becoming the new norm, we will continue to focus on this capability to strengthen our business. Currently, our products are available on e-commerce platforms like Flipkart, Amazon, and BigBasket. Our own D2C service has been picking a lot of traction which enables us to engage with consumers directly and provides for extremely insightful brand conversations. A lot of our recent campaigns have been purely digital,” Prashant further informed.
Explaining about their digital initiative, Meghana and Shauravi said that we have run a number of topical campaigns as well, that relate our products to ongoing health concerns. For example, in winter, when air pollution reaches alarming levels in many parts of India, we ran a campaign to explain how jaggery is extremely good for lung health. We have also published a long-form piece on the impact of the pandemic on children's mental health, which is a subject that desperately needs attention.
D2C is the New Normal
“We are a D2C business, selling on our own website and e-commerce marketplaces. We also sell through the traditional FMCG store channel across India, although currently that is impacted by COVID,” Meghana and Shauravi elaborated.
Prashant further added that in February 2021, Tata Consumer Products Ltd (TCPL) acquired a 100 percent stake in our company thereby enhancing our business/credentials. The resulting synergies in areas spanning distribution, procurement, and logistics, will help significantly scale our business. For eg., Tata Consumer Soulfull is present in about 15000 outlets, while TCPL currently has a reach into 2.4 Million outlets, so the sheer distribution expansion will give the brand substantial growth.
“For the distribution, we have our own website through which it is made easier to the customer in this pandemic to reach us. We equally focus on both offline and online sectors. Additionally, we are available in about 40,000 outlets with 33 super stockiest and 124 distributors ensuring the products are on the shelves of every neighborhood store and putting them within the reach of the common man,” Prabhu also informed.
Future Prospects of Millet Utilisation in India
The future of millets in India is definitely headed in the right direction with more consumers adapting it to suit their changing lifestyle. We strongly believe that it will evolve to become a mainstream category. As more and more people start seeing products that are a fit with their preferences and blend well into their lifestyle, there will be a more widespread acceptance of these grains.
Besides this, the government and regulatory bodies too are coming up with initiatives that are leading to an increased millets consumption which has grown over the last five to ten years. Initiatives like the UN’s recent announcement of 2023 as the International Year of Millets will ensure raising awareness on the health and sustainability benefits of millets and further contribute to food security, and livelihoods of farmers and suppliers in regions threatened by drought and climate change. All these efforts will make millets more mainstream, the way they were earlier.
If India needs to secure its food and farming for this century, there is an urgent need to recognize millets as the future of this country and adopt prevalent steps. Millets are much more nutritious than rice and wheat. They can be made into tasty dishes that require no chemicals to grow and can help reduce carbon emissions.