Representative image (Source: ShutterStock)
With ‘eat as your grandmother would’ becoming the new health mantra, traditional staples such as ragi, jowar and bajra have made a comeback in Indian diets -- which has created an attractive market for start-ups and large companies such as ITC and Tata Consumer Products.
The pandemic has further accelerated this trend of consumers seeking healthier ingredients in food and beverages, according to a survey by Euromonitor.
The survey showed that about 69 percent of consumers look for healthy ingredients in food beverages, a 5 percent increase from 2019. Respondents also indicated that they are trying to increase their intake of fibre and protein. About 40 percent of them said they were trying to include more fibre and protein in their diet in 2021 as compared to 35 percent in 2020.
However, many consumers find these grains unpalatable and difficult to cook, found the survey. The top reasons cited by consumers for not including the traditional staples in their diets were — not enough time to cook (30 percent), do not enjoy the taste of the healthy foods (over 27 percent) and cannot cook well (over 22 percent).
Companies operating in the FMCG segment such as Tata Consumer Products, ITC were quick to spot this trend and launched products to cater to the increasing demand for traditional staples.
ITC is catering to this segment through its range Aashirvaad Nature’s Super Foods launched in 2019. Given the consumer traction, it has introduced more variants in this range.
"With consumers increasingly seeking a more holistic lifestyle focusing on health and wellness, further fueled by the pandemic, the portfolio of Aashirvaad Nature’s Super Foods has been augmented with the launch of the organic range comprising organic atta and organic pulses – tur dal, moong dal, chana dal and urad dal," said S Ganesh Kumar, SBU Chief Executive, Staples, Snacks and Meals, ITC Ltd.
Another major FMCG player Tata Consumer Products has acquired Soulfull, a start-up that offers products such as Millet Muesli, Ragi Dosa. It has also signed an MoU with the Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR) to “unlock the full potential of millets as a healthier and more sustainable alternative to traditional grains.”
Several start-ups such as Slurrp Farm, Happa Foods, The Whole Truth have also cropped up in the segment.
Millet for thought
Staples such as ragi and jowar, were consumed widely in India before the green revolution, however, their consumption dropped after the movement as the government pushed the production of wheat and rice, experts said.
With growing instances of gluten allergies, increased health consciousness, and consumer preference to eat healthily, they are now making a comeback.
“The journey started five-six years ago but now COVID-19 has further accelerated it,” said Prashant Parameswaran, Managing Director, Tata Consumer Soulfull.
He said heightened consumer interest in these products was helping the company record three-digit growth. Also, the traction is not just limited to urban areas, even smaller towns are showing an inclination to consumer products that have traditional staples in them.
“A very high-double digit of our business comes from smaller towns,” he added.
Slurrp Farms, which caters to the children’s nutrition category, too, has witnessed a demand for its products from tier II and beyond cities.
“About 30-40 percent of our business comes from smaller towns,” said Shauravi Malik, founder, Slurrp Farm.
Both the companies operate with a digital-first model like most other players in this niche segment but have offline expansion plans. Tata Soulfull is ramping up its offline presence, and is currently present in 50,000 stores and plans to keep adding more stores every month.
On the other hand, Slurrp Farm had to scale down its offline presence due to the pandemic, however, it plans to expand it again in the future. “Currently, we draw about 80 percent of our revenues from the digital channel and 20 percent from offline. We see this share reversing over the years,” said Malik.
The companies have masstige ambitions for their products and hence have launched Rs 10 packs to induce trials.
A matter of taste
Industry experts indicate that there is a huge opportunity in this segment, especially, as the government is encouraging the production of these staples in the country.
“There are a handful of players operating in this space, but it is expected to change as government plans to integrate these cereals with help of policies and regulations,” said Neeraj Talele, Research Analyst, Euromonitor International.
But before the companies can reap the benefits of their investment in ‘traditional staples’, they need to address several challenges of the segment.
“The biggest challenge for companies in this segment would be to educate the consumers about the health benefits of millets and to make them replace or substitute wheat or rice with millets as integrated as a part of our daily meals,” added Talele.
Also, the preparation time for millets is higher as compared to wheat and rice, he added, which again is a challenge.