How this food blogger and farmer became a millet entrepreneur

Sanjeeta KK quit her job after facing health issues. She took to food blogging which led her to millet entrepreneurship. Her Chennai-based startup OGMO Foods now sells over 30 products and the revenues are growing at 30% annually

Rashmi Pratap
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Sanjeeta KK at her farm in Maduranthakam (left) and OGMO Foods' products

Sanjeeta KK at her farm in Maduranthakam (left) and OGMO Foods' products

After her MBA in marketing and finance, Sanjeeta KK got a break in the corporate sector. She spent the next six years working for companies before her health took a hit. Still in her twenties, she quit her job to focus on regaining her health.

With a BSc in health and nutrition, Sanjeeta was always drawn to food and its photography. “I started my food blog Lite Bite in 2008, dabbling in food photography and recipe development. Around the same time, we bought a 4-acre farm on the outskirts of Chennai near Maduranthakam in Tamil Nadu. On my visits to the farm, I would interact with the local farmers who used to tell me about growing small millets on their land before rice and wheat edged out millets from daily diets,” she says.

Millets belong to the grass family and are classified as major and minor millets, depending on their size. While sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra) and finger millet (ragi) are major millets, foxtail, little millet, kodo, proso and barnyard millet are minor millets. Gluten-free and rich in nutrients, millets are now considered a superfood.

Having been born and raised in Rajasthan, Sanjeeta was familiar with major millets as bajra and jowar rotis are made in every household. “But I was intrigued by minor millets as I did not know about them,” she says.

“Once, a farmer offered me 'koozh' – a millet-based drink. When I asked, she said if they drink two glasses of 'koozh', they feel full and cool for the rest of the day,” Sanjeeta recollects.

The farmer also told her that earlier, every farming household used to grow small millets as a staple crop. However, after shifting to new hybrid varieties, small millets were grown only in small patches for domestic consumption. “I got even more interested in the gluten-free small millets and started researching about them. In 2012-13, I decided to grow them on my farm to use them to make products that could revive the cultivation of small millets,” the agripreneur says.

at her farm
Sanjeeta began with the cultivation of barnyard and little millet on her farm. Pic: OGMO Foods 

Starting with millet cultivation

She started with growing barnyard and little millet. Millets are hardy and drought-tolerant cereals that are easy to cultivate as they require little water and can be grown in any type of soil. They are nutritious and rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium. “With the first harvest, we started testing for new products like small millet flour, whole grains and flakes. For preparing flakes, I contacted people near our village,” says Sanjeeta.

Also Read: Andhra MBA quits job to foray into millet business, earns in crores

Being a recipe developer and food stylist, it did not take her long to come up with an innovative small-millet-based product in her kitchen.

Sanjeeta used the small millet flakes to create overnight millets on the lines of overnight oats – the make-ahead breakfast for busy mornings. For making overnight millets, she used small millet flakes, and other natural products like beetroot powder, seeds (pumpkin and chia), raisins, etc.

“I used to make overnight millets for my husband (Krishna Kumar who then worked in the IT sector and later quit to join Sanjeeta’s millet startup OGMO Foods),” the woman entrepreneur says. She experimented with both sweet and savoury versions and once the recipes were perfected in her kitchen, Sanjeeta decided to launch them in the market.

From millet cultivation to millet entrepreneurship

In 2017, she set up a small unit in her farmhouse and invested around Rs 3 lakh to put up machines for filling, drum roasters, blenders etc. “In 2018, I commercially launched OGMO Foods with four products -- two variants of overnight millets and overnight oats each. I put them out on social media including LinkedIn and the products started getting good traction,” she says. 

at her factory
Sanjeeta at her unit (left) and with her products (left). Pic: OGMO Foods

Soon, Big Basket and Spar approached OGMO Foods followed by the Nilgiris supermarket chain of Chennai. A customer from Nilgiris took some products to Pune and OGMO Foods soon found a place on the shelves of Dorabjee – one of Pune's oldest, chains of supermarkets and grocery stores. “Mostly, the sales grew through word of mouth and now OGMO is present in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, as well,” she says. 

“Our sales are growing at 30 percent annually and we are profitable,” the millet entrepreneur says.

The products are sold both online and offline. Online, the products are available on the OGMO website and Amazon, Flipkart and Big Basket while offline buyers include private and government hospitals, clinics, and corporates. The company now offers 30 plus products including its flagship overnight millets, overnight oats, millet snacks, energy bites, granolas, health mixes, idli and dosa premixes, unpolished whole grains, and unpolished millet flours.

Also Read: How two MBA friends built a millet muesli business

Social impact 

Sanjeeta procures the raw materials from a farmer producer organization (FPO) which is reviving the cultivation of small millets.

“We started OGMO to help farmers revive the cultivation of small millets. Our factory in a village provides job opportunities to local women,” she says. 

“Farmers are still hesitant to go back to millets due to lack of demand but we are trying by assuring them a steady market for their produce,” Sanjeeta says.

All the products are free of preservatives and artificial colours or flavourings. The millet startup has also procured a vacuum packing machine which will enhance the shelf life of its products to 18 months. “We have recently launched gluten-free vegan cookies for our corporate clients and plan to expand that range,” Sanjeeta says. Next on her agenda is scaling up operations to meet the rising demand for millet-based products. “We have plans to construct a bigger unit. It is in the pipeline,” she says.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

Also Read: How this daughter turned her mother's pickle home business into a Rs 2 crore enterprise

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