How two MBA friends built a millet muesli business

Poojitha Turumalla and Keerthi Kabra launched Millet Mantra in January 2020, just before COVID-19 hit. The bootstrapped startup sells millet-based muesli in multiple flavours both in India and abroad and is set to cross Rs1 crore in revenues next fiscal

US Anu
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Poojitha Turumalla (right) and Keerthi Kabra (left)

Poojitha Turumalla (right) and Keerthi Kabra (left)

When Poojitha Turumalla and Keerthi Kabra were completing their graduation in Agriculture and Rural Development in 2012, little did they know that they would one day set up a millet breakfast enterprise with global buyers. The two college friends pursued an MBA in Agri-Business Management from the Navsari Agricultural University in Gujarat and worked in the corporate world after completing their studies in 2014.

During interaction with her colleagues, Poojitha realised that while people wanted to eat healthy food, they did not have time to prepare it. “I had grown up eating millet dishes like ragi java (a drink made with sprouted ragi flour, water or milk and jaggery). And Keerthi too regularly had millet chapattis and other items,” says Poojitha.

With an entrepreneurial spirit, the duo realised the need for healthy food options, especially breakfast which is the most important meal of the day. By then, Keerthi had moved to Madhya Pradesh after marriage and pursuing farming. Poojitha had settled in Hyderabad, Telangana, and worked in a startup. 

Zeroing in on millets 

“Keerthi and I discussed the potential of millet-based easy-to-prepare food items and clearly saw a market demand for it. Most importantly, we both believe in the benefits of millets beyond health. They require very little water for cultivation and are climate-resilient. They have the potential to wipe out global hunger,” says Poojitha.

Millets are also loaded with minerals, proteins, micronutrients and antioxidants. “They are high in nutrition and dietary fibre, helping lower blood glucose levels,” says the woman entrepreneur.

In 2019, Poojitha enrolled in a two-month training programme with the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) in Hyderabad. 

IIMR is a premier agricultural research institute where basic and strategic research on millets is done under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The research includes millet cultivation, pathology and value addition among other areas.

no sugar
Millet Mantra products are free of sugar and preservatives. 

“From the importance of millets to setting up a company, I learnt everything as part of the first batch of COHORT at IIMR. We also received Rs5 lakh grant under the RKVY RAFTAAR scheme (which focuses on the development of agriculture and allied sectors),” says Poojitha.

Also Read: This IITian quit job to become a millet entrepreneur; clocks Rs2.5 crore in revenues

The duo began to work with food technologists to arrive at a recipe that would use the maximum amount of millet and was free of preservatives and sugar. 

They opted for muesli as breakfast is the most important meal of the day and also the one for which people have the least time to prepare. With changing lifestyles and a higher need for convenience, Indians are increasingly moving towards breakfast cereals like muesli, granola and porridge, especially in urban areas. 

Indian breakfast cereals market is expected to witness a CAGR of 8.2 percent between 2024 and 2029, according to a report by Mordon Intelligence. And muesli is among the fastest-growing product categories.

“We thought millet mueslis will be a good product for those who do not have time to prepare breakfast for themselves or for their families but are keen to provide them with healthy options,” the millet entrepreneur says.

Preservative and sugar-free muesli

“So we ensured that at least one-third of our muesli formulation contained millets. That was the starting point of our recipes. We worked on the formula, and in place of sugar, we decided to use palm jaggery. We don’t use any preservatives and use nitrogen packaging to ensure freshness and a good shelf life,” she says.

Nitrogen drives out oxygen and moisture from the packet and preserves quality, slows down spoilage, and extends the products' shelf life. 

Keerthi and Poojitha opted for a contract manufacturing facility in Bengaluru instead of setting up their own plant. 

One, they wanted to test the market demand for their product and, two, they wanted to roll out the business with minimum investment. “A contract manufacturing facility also cuts down the time to reach market,” Poojitha says. 

The duo then registered Millet Mantra Pvt Ltd and was ready with the first product by January 2020. While founder Poojitha looks after overall operations, co-founder Keerthi manages marketing, branding and business development.

Also Read: From truck driver to millet millionaire, how this Telangana farmer built a successful food business

raftar grant
Poojitha (second from left) received grant under RKVY-RAFTAAR programme. Pic: Millet Mantra

“We rolled out Crunchy Nutty Delight and diet muesli flavours on January 12, 2020. The first batch was 600 kg and the response to samples in stores at Hyderabad was good,” she recollects. 

Also Read: Engineer couple builds Rs 2 crore laddu business with Rs 1 lakh investment

Pandemic and growth

However, the pandemic hit in March 2020 and Keerthi and Poojitha were not sure of the next steps to ensure sales. “At that time, Hyderabade-based Millet Mantra got placed at Amazon and we were happy because it was an opportunity amid COVID. Initially, we would get an order in two to three days. Gradually, sales started picking up. When offline stores were shut, we continued online sales,” she says.

The startup will close FY24 with revenues of Rs45 lakh and is targeting Rs1 crore in FY25, Poojitha says.

In October 2021, Millet Mantra launched two more flavours – Berry Blast and Dark Chocolate Muesli. Its products include around 30 percent millets, 21 percent nuts and berries, oats and palm jaggery. “In November, we launched millet-based snacks after taking feedback from 15,000 students. These are coconut buds, peanut pops, flaxseed hearts and almond hearts,” she says.

millet factsheet
Millet - the orginal superfood. Pic: 30Stades

Millet Mantra, despite the slowdown during the pandemic, has carved a niche in the breakfast space. The products are sold offline in 100 stores in Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and Tamil Nadu. Online, they are available at Amazon, Flipkart and other marketplaces. 

Millet Mantra products are also exported to Dubai. “We are also in talks for exporting to other countries,” the millet entrepreneur says. We are going to launch more products this year. “We are not looking at setting up a manufacturing facility right now. We will go for it by FY27,” she says.

(US Anu is a Madurai-based writer. She specialises in stories around human interest, environment and art and culture.)

Also Read: 7 millet entrepreneurs changing India’s food habits profitably

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