April 05, 2019
hat can you expect when two high-flying ‘pukka corporate-type’ women professionals give up their jobs to launch a nutritious food label for children? Stiff competition to all those greasy, salty, preservatives-laden snacks out there on grocery shelves, for sure.
Meghana Narayan and Shauravi Malik, both mothers of little kids, knew they were in for the long haul when they launched Slurrp Farm, India’s first FMCG food label that ensures millets and all kinds of healthy stuff reach little children’s tummies. When naysayers expressed doubts about such a concept – ragi and oats cookies? Are you kidding? – both dug their heels in.
“We’re persistent people, that’s for sure,” laughs Meghana at her Gurgaon office, just a stone’s throw away from her home. The idea that kids today have practically no options of healthy snacks for tiffin-time and after-school munchies triggered the two friends to research all available ingredients out there, and to take feedback from their target group – mothers like themselves – on what they wanted their kids to eat. And so began their journey into food, retail, health and nutrition together.
Meghana and Shauravi first met in London, where Meghana worked at McKinsey heading its public health practice, and Shauravi worked as a banker at JP Morgan. Through her work, Meghana was aware of discomfiting statistics about child health and early childhood nutrition in India. As a mother of a little girl, she was also disturbed by the food choices available to kids. Snack foods in stores contained all kinds of chemicals and preservatives, and India’s indigenous millets that are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, were nowhere to be found.
“It didn’t make sense,” says Meghana, 40, of the gap in the market they observed. “The shelf in the market is wide open for healthy snack food,” she says, “but it was for good reason: it’s not easy.” The two friends decided on their new brand’s key values such as no chemicals, only locally sourced ingredients such as traditionally grown millets, and added a USP to it all: “It has to be tasty.” They had the best customer focus group give them feedback: pre-schoolers, including their own. “They can be pretty brutal,” she jokes.
The end result, Slurrp Farm, launched in 2015 with three varieties of cookies, was a snack that had everything a mother and her kid could want: nutritious, reasonably priced, cutely branded, easy to make, and yummy. As Meghana’s mom puts it: “Packet se pet tak in 10 minutes (from packet to stomach in 10 minutes)”. The range quickly expanded to millet pancakes in two flavours, millet dosa batters in two flavours, three types of munchies, and two types of baby cereals.
“Our biggest challenge has been to find a way to make what tastes delicious in a home kitchen, taste the same on a shelf when it reaches your hands, without adding anything to it,” explains Meghana. At the same time, they had to add something ‘more’ than what an Indian mother would normally cook at home. “So instead of plain dosa with rice and or just wheat as an ingredient, we add five grains in the ingredients,” she adds.
The founders have a ‘tiny tummies index’ they follow: “How many times a week does a kid eat our food? That’s how many grains go into his or her tummy,” smiles Meghana, adding that they met 164 food manufacturers before zeroing in on three to work with.
They also presented a paper on millets at the MS Swaminathan Foundation arguing that while the Green Revolution of the 1960s had helped fill stomachs during a famine in India, it had also done much damage to the Indian diet that was once rich in nutrition from hardy millets, and to the farmers who once grew them at low cost without the need for pesticides. “The Foundation agreed with us,” she says, adding that the Indian Government had announced 2018 as the National Year of Millets, reviving production once again.
Upon the request from the Indian government, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has also decided to observe 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
Choosing between motherhood and career was not Meghana’s and Shauravi’s cup of tea: so they just took their entire families along with them. Slurrp Farm is not just their own venture, they say, but one that has required ‘the entire village’ to pitch in – from logistical and financial support by their husbands, parents and in-laws, to motivational talks such as one by Meghana’s brother-in-law Aditya Ghosh, the CEO of Oyo, who told them, “ You woke up smarter today,” whenever they faced setbacks.
“This is just year two of 10,” says Meghana of the company’s vision, which is to take Indian millets to the world, to redefine ready-to-eat snack foods, and to make Indian kids healthier. When potential investors ask them about their operations, they reply, “We run it like women – an honest company making honest products and making money.” When you do that, everyone wins.
The Magic of Millets
Barnyard millet (sanwa / udalu / sama) contains the highest amount of iron among millets. It is also a rich source of protein.
Finger millet (ragi) has more calcium per gram than any other cereal and even milk! It’s also rich in fibre and phosphorous.
Foxtail millet (kaun / kangni) is a generous source of protein, and helps improve glycaemic control and reduce insulin in Type 2 diabetes patients.
Kodo millet (kodon / varagu / kodra) is a rich source of Vitamin B, is diabetes-friendly, and helps with post-menopausal cardiac care.
Little millet (kutki / kangani / gajro) is big on protein and dietary fibre, and boosts natural antioxidants in the body.
Pearl millet (bajra / kamboo) has high quantities of protein, magnesium and folic acid.
Proso millet (barre / cheena) is the highest in protein value among millets, with additional amino acids. It’s also a rich source of Vitamin B6 and folic acid.
Sorghum (jowar) is excellent for improving haemoglobin, serum folic acid, calcium and iron in the blood. It helps in diabetes control and reducing obesity.