Read full article By FnBNews @ FNBNEWSW Photo Credit: Soulfull
With UN declaring 2023 as the Year of Millets, India takes the centre stage. Our country is the largest producer of millets. We need to bring millets to the centre of the plate. However, rice and wheat cannot go out of our food plate and this is not the intention, Prashant Parameswaran, managing director & CEO, Tata Consumer Soulfull, tells Nandita Vijay in a telecon. Excerpts:
What is the pipeline of plans to maximise the International Year of Millets in 2023?
Currently, is an interesting time and we are having some discussions around this, to understand the larger impact of the announcement. Specifically, from a Tata Consumer Products (TCP) Soulfull perspective, it is a timely initiative. With the Union government’s productivity linked incentive (PLI) scheme in food processing, Indian brands can make a global mark. The timing of UN declaring 2023 as the Year of Millets is great for us. India is the largest producer of millets and with people moving to ready-to-eat millet-based products is an opportunity. Obviously India can actually have a global plan and leadership on value-based millet products.
What are the three big positives on the acquisition by Tata Consumer of Kottaram Foods and will the Soulfull brand be retained?
There are more than three positives. First this acquisition provides an opportunity to build a larger canvas to spread the goodness of millets. We need work to make India’s ancient grains like millet, relevant to the 21st century. Health and wellness, cannot be niche, but must be affordable to reach across the length and breadth of the country.
Secondly, our brand has been strong across regions and in distribution network. What the new partnership really provides us under the aegis of a trusted and reputed brand like Tata’s, is to expand our horizons and leverage the distribution of TCP, not just to the cities that we are present but to newer locations across outlets.
Thirdly, TCP is a large organisation with extensive processes in place. What we are able to do is bring the strength and might of the TCP along with the agility of our brand. It is a beautiful marriage of these two!
Soulfull is definitely being retained. We will be suffixing the brand Tata on Soulfull and that exercise is ongoing. So that’s why the company has already been rebranded from Kottaram Agro Foods to Tata Consumer Soulfull.
What are the likely R&D efforts?
Considerable research is on the cards and a lot of synergies will come into play. This would go across the entire portfolio of TCP because millets are obviously an area that we are working on. While we have been working only in millets, TCP has got a large might around the entire food chain which means it will enable us to focus lot more on new products categories.
What would be your outlook for the sector in 2023? What are the initiatives you’re planning for 2023 though it is one and half years away?
I think it is important to take a step back and retrospect. Even for the 2023 announcement, there was a lot of work that happened across government bodies to bring this to fruition. It is a start of a journey bringing millets to where it began. We have seen it in pulses and quinoa, where, whenever there is an international year, it not just brings it to the mainstream but also elevates it to a global landscape. Essentially what it does is, make people look at millets as a staple not because they don’t have an idea, but rather bring it to the centre stage. That’s what 2023 does, as it will enable marginal farmers and the entire ecosystem to start working towards making millets mainstream and relevant the way it used to be earlier.
Obviously we are at the forefront of millet research and manufacturing millet- based products. Today, over 50% of millet consumption is not just in staples, but is actually in alternative products. More millets based products are being seen by the consumer. As much as we can all talk about production at the back end, we cannot ignore companies’ research efforts in this regard. As leaders in this entire area of millet-based value-added products, the landscape is right to make this dream a reality.
How is your company gearing up to take the lead in this cause to promote millets, considering India is the largest millet producer in the world?
Our, main focus will be to build our entire India business, and prepare for the future. TCP also has international business which we may explore but at later stage. It is still too early to comment on that. Definitely, the focus will remain on building the brand in India first, before taking it globally.
In your view, the health factor, taste, or the branding/packaging/pricing that can drive millets into the mainstream?
It is all of these. Then there are non-negotiables, like for instance taste. The main difference between food and medicine is taste. Even during a lot of our conversation, if the food doesn’t taste good and especially from an India perspective, despite all the nutritive benefits, unless the taste is right, it is not going to be regularly consumed.
Health and wellness are definitely growing quite significantly with a market size of Rs 20,000 crore and that is where we will be heading towards. This trend is accentuated by Covid-19 too, where people understand that while vaccine is important there is need to figure out other ways to build one’s immunity.
Increase in urbanisation and rise in disposable incomes, are allowing Indians to address the need of health and wellness. That being said, India is a price- and value-conscious economy. In other words, price points become important. But as long value is provided to the consumer and not being just exorbitantly priced, it is fine.
Companies cannot just charge a premium with value addition. There have been various reports highlighting immunity boosting benefits of millets which is why it is making a comeback. Tata Consumer Soulfull is bringing back those grains into today’s market. It is not possible for everybody to go to their kitchen, and experiment with various grains. That is where our brand comes into play. Our entire product range, be it snacking, breakfast cereal and beverages, are actually being able to bring this to life.
Would you be able to tell us how millets contribute to food security, ensure farmers livelihood and drive good practices during this climate change scenario?
We still have a long way to go. As the millets journey has started. Farmers, the government and regulatory bodies are seeing the benefit, as consumption has dramatically increased over the last five to 10 years. They are clearly seeing sustainability goals and nutritional security. Over the next couple of years, we will start making a larger positive impact to planet earth.
Do you see at any point of time, over the next one and a half years millets to replace our staple rice and wheat products in the wake of our health- conscious population?
Rice or wheat cannot go out of our food plate and this is not the intention. The larger objective is to bring millets back to the centre of the plate. What needs to be done to make millets as part of our daily diet is to develop new product versions. It’s not about selling it as a loose flour but to develop innovative products. Honestly, we have not been able to take it to the rest of the country. However, there is not a single product out there in the market that can compete with us from a nutritional and taste point. Globally too US and Europe, have begun to accept ancient grains. India is the largest producer of millets and accounts for 41% of its production in the world.
In your view what are the key challenges to make millets the food of the future?
One of the key tasks is to halt wrong perceptions. People still feel millets are regional foods. There is another layer of complexity that comes in, as south has a lot more raagi consumption while in the western region it is jowar. We need to look at every challenge as a new opportunity. Another notion is that millet is a poor man’s food, which is absolutely a wrong view. With a profusion of millet products that are urban in nature, these perceptions will also change.