Millets, the protein-rich cereal crops, are gradually coming back to the Indian tables. A group of small-seeded grasses, millets are mentioned in the ancient text Yajurveda, which identifies foxtail millet as priyangava, barnyard millet as aanava and black finger millet as shyaamaka. Millet consumption was common thousands of years ago and pre-dates the Indian Bronze Age (4,500 BC).
With time, millet consumption reduced in India as they were considered coarse grains. The Green Revolution, which popularized wheat and rice, wiped out many varieties of millets. But as the world moves towards a more sustainable lifestyle, it is time to reclaim some of the older values. Making millets a part of the diet is one of them.
Millets are among the healthiest whole grains because they are alkaline, gluten-free and also packed with proteins and antioxidants. Millets belong to the grass family and are classified as major and minor millets as per their size. While sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet are major millets, foxtail, little millet, kodo, proso, and barnyard are minor millets.
Millets are drought-resistant, require less water and can grow in poor soil conditions. They need minimal inputs and are resistant to diseases and pests. However since millet cultivation made way for rice and wheat in most parts of the country, their revival involves work at multiple levels.
Entrepreneurs, who have realised the importance and benefits of millets, are now working to create an ecosystem where these crops can travel from farm to fork in the most convenient manner.
So some of them are working directly with millet farmers to promote their cultivation and processing while others are preparing ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat food items to make millet cooking convenient. Some are even exporting millets-based products like noodles, millet pasta, millet cookies and other items.
Interestingly, most of the millet entrepreneurs are first generation in the business, are educated and have given up their jobs to pursue work in the field of millet. For them, it’s a passion to bring back the healthy foods Indians ate until some decades back.
Here are seven millet entrepreneurs and their startups, which are profitable, and are growing rapidly as they have hit the right button on consumers’ palates:
1. Biradhar Veer Shetty
This farmer-entrepreneur cultivates and processes millets on his 15-acre farm in Telangana's Sangareddy district. It was during a trip to Beed in Maharashtra in 2009 that Biradhar Veer Shetty hit upon the idea of millet farming and making snacks from millet. The class 9 pass out from Telangana who once drove a truck to earn a living has today created a successful business with an annual turnover of Rs1 crore and supported thousands of farmers.
He has trained thousands of men and women in preparing ready-to-eat millet products and helped farmers increase their incomes up to five times.
His millet-based products are sold under the Millovit brand through Bhavani Foods, the company he set up in 2008 to market the food items. He set up another company, Agro Foods, in 2016 which buys millets from farmers and processes them to make the products.
Read his full story here: From truck driver to millet millionaire, how this Telangana farmer built a successful food business
2. KV Rama Subba Reddy
After three decades in a very successful corporate career, it was the nostalgic memories of his mother’s millet-based dishes that pulled K V Rama Subba Reddy back from Delhi to his village in Andhra Pradesh.
Once back in Nandyal town, 15 km from his village Jillella where he was born, Reddy turned his memories into a thriving business that has an annual turnover of over Rs 3 crore today. His agro company called Sattva Millets and Food Products makes valued-added items from millets.
Reddy and his brothers cultivate millets on 60 of their 80 acres. He also procures millets from other farmers for processing.
Sattva Millets sells whole grains as well as ready-to-eat foods made from jowar, bajra, fox millet, brown top millet, barnyard millet and Kodo. His company has a range of products like idli, dosa, upma, poha, and cookies, all made from millets. Reddy’s wife has created the recipes while his daughter has done the product design.
In 2015, Shubhadra quit as the CEO and Vice Principal of Emerald Heights College for Women in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. An MTech in computer science from Anna University, she decided to start a healthy food business that could empower women.
Today, her Coimbatore-based startup PVR Foods sells 83 types of millet-based ready-to-cook products across India under the Bommi Dhaniyam brand.
The products are priced between Rs45 and 80 depending on the type of millet. PVR Foods generates annual revenues of Rs3 crore and the numbers are growing rapidly.
Her products are sold both offline and online. The products are available online through Amazon and Flipkart. PVR Foods sells directly to institutions like hospitals, industries, and office canteens and gyms besides supplying them to retail outlets.
More about Shubhadra here: Computer science professor turns millet entrepreneur, earns Rs 3 crore annually
4. Somashekhar Pogula
He started his enterprise Adithi Millets to provide good prices to farmers and healthy millet-based products to consumers. An MBA by qualification, he works with 208 farmers in three districts of Andhra Pradesh. They grow Brown Top millets, which has increased their incomes two to three times.
In 2011, Somashekar Pogula’s father was diagnosed with kidney failure and advised dialysis by doctors in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. During rounds of hospitals for treatment, Somashekar realised an increasing number of people were diabetic. This motivated Somashekar to launch his enterprise to make millet-based products that have an annual turnover of Rs 2 crore now. Somashekar sells unpolished millet rice and value-added products under his brand Adithi Millets.
Here’s his story: Andhra MBA quits job to foray into millet business, earns in crores
5. Sowmya Mandarapu
This food scientist’s healthy food startup Millennova Foods uses millets, lentils, fruits and vegetables to make ready-to-eat snacks. With a monthly turnover of Rs3 lakh, she is now setting up a new facility that can process one tonne of millet daily. Inspired by Millets, she named her company Millennova Foods and registered it in Hyderabad in 2018.
The woman entrepreneur has created value-added products in different flavours without any preservatives and her startup makes snacks like chips and energy bars, breakfast bars, probiotic bars etc.
The products can be bought online through Amazon and Millennova’s own store. They are also available in organic stores besides being bought in bulk by retailers, event organisers and exhibitions.
6. P Janakan
This 32-year-old engineer turned entrepreneur processes 600 tonnes of organic millet annually at his plant in Namakkal in rural Tamil Nadu and earns Rs3 crore in revenue. He provides higher-than-market rates to over 100 farmers for sourcing millets to make flour, flakes, porridges, health mixes and other items sold in India and abroad.
He started the unit in 2018 over 1,000 sq ft of his family’s land and now it has grown to a 15,000 sq ft facility.
He received a subsidy from the government and also took a loan to start with a total investment of Rs10 lakh. He processes foxtail, barnyard, kodo, little millet, brown top, ragi, pearl millet and jowar to make millet raw rice, millet broken, flour and millet flakes (similar to corn flakes). The leftover husk is sent as feed for cattle. The millet entrepreneur currently employs 15 people at the unit and has mechanized as many operations as possible.
7. Krishnaa Kantthawala
This MBA quit her job in Singapore to set up a healthy food business. She launched her Smart Eleven brand in 2021 and now exports millet noodles, pasta and other products to five countries, which bring in 60 percent of her revenues.
Smart Eleven noodles are priced at Rs 96 for a 175 gm pack while cookies cost Rs 69 for a 100 gm pack.
She has invested around Rs14 lakh in a warehouse-cum-packaging facility in Undri, Pune, and in developing flavours exclusive to Smart Eleven.
Online, the products are available at Amazon and Big Basket while offline, Smart Eleven has a distribution network in Bengaluru. The monthly sales for Smart Eleven are around Rs12 lakh right now and growing consistently and the startup is concentrating on exports and online sales.
Besides being available in India, the products are exported to Norway, Angola, Congo, Nepal and the USA.