Motherhood is a life-changing experience. It was no different for Deepa Muthukumarasamy, a master’s in Food and Nutrition from Women’s Christian College in Chennai. Little did she know that the millet-based health mixes she made for her toddler son would one day turn her into a successful food entrepreneur!
“I got married in 2007 and moved to Tirupur (Tamil Nadu) where my husband had a knitting business. My son was born in 2008 and once he turned eight months old, I began to use my formulations to prepare organic millet-based health mixes to feed him,” recalls Deepa.
The mixes were made using sprouted ragi, pulses, and other ingredients. Deepa would procure the raw materials from a local organic store, sundry and roast them, and take them to a flour mill for grinding. “I made them in batches of 20kg as my extended family also enjoyed having them,” she says.
Her neighbours, who would see her preparing the ready-to-cook mixes hygienically, began to approach her to buy them. “In 2009, a family started buying 5 to 8 kg of the health mix per month. Soon, the list of paying customers began to increase,” she says.
At that time, Deepa undertook market research and found that all baby foods were highly processed and loaded with sugar. “There was a huge gap between parents’ expectations and the available baby foods. I thought of starting other variants and registered my company Some More Foods Pvt Ltd in 2013,” she says.
Her first product was the Complete Health Mix, a preservative-free, millet and pulses-based mix for all age groups. Millets are gluten-free and contain a high content of protein, fibre, and antioxidants. Since they release sugar slowly, they are a good option for diabetics.
“I used to buy organic ingredients from an outlet in Tirupur and this shopkeeper agreed to be my first supplier. He took my product to around 200 stores in various districts of Tamil Nadu.”
The product received a good response. Alongside, she continued to prepare baby food mixes. Deepa’s next breakthrough came when a paediatrician gave some samples to young mothers who tried the product and gave good feedback. “That was my first fixed monthly order for 100 packs (of 350 gm each),” she recollects.
The word spread and soon, some more paediatricians in Tamil Nadu began ordering from her.
“Then I created a separate weaning food brand -- First Spoon. It offers ready-to-cook porridge mixes which are millet-based, organic, and free of sugar, preservatives or any additives,” Deepa says.
Today, Some More Foods offers millet noodles, millet pasta, millet vermicelli, millet bites, and gluten-free millet cookies in many flavours. They also have natural sweeteners like coconut sugar, cane sugar, and palm sugar besides baby food products under the First Spoon brand.
The entrepreneurial spirit
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, and seeing them succeed in business, she was keen on being financially independent. “I inherited the entrepreneurial zeal from my family,” she says.
The remarkable fact of Deepa’s journey has been self-funding of all operations. “I was married into a conservative family where women are expected to primarily look after the household. I made it a point not to borrow any money from anyone,” she says.
After completing her master’s Deepa worked as a clinical nutritionist for six months and was involved in some business operations or the other after that. “I was mostly involved in small businesses like selling clothes and in other partnerships with cousins or friends or participating in exhibitions,” she says.
“Till then, I didn’t know what venture I should focus on. Bringing up my son gave me a new direction,” she says.
From 2013 to 2017, she continued selling health mix products and expanded the range to include millet vermicelli and millet noodles. The baby food product range was also expanded to include more variants under the First Spoon brand.
“In 2017, I attended a workshop by The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE). They had come up with a project for women entrepreneurs. I was selected and got mentorship support for six months. That workshop was an eye opener as we were taught everything about business,” the millet entrepreneur says.
It allowed Deepa to learn about FMCG and helped her connect with a leading advertising and marketing agency. “The agency helped me in rebranding with great designs. Till then, I was selling the products in transparent packaging with a label.
Rapid growth of the millets food business
By late 2017, she had products with a new packaging. “Earlier, I was hesitant to pitch my products to paediatricians due to the basic packaging we worked with. But after 2018, wherever I went, the products were well appreciated. I closed deals with 40 paediatricians,” she says.
The business ran successfully from 2017 to 2020, and then the pandemic hit. “Since we were not able to travel much for product promotion during COVID-19, I focused on adding new products like millet pasta, millet Hakka noodles and other items.
The pandemic also gave a new impetus to her millet business as people became more health-conscious.
“I received my first export order during the pandemic.”
Many NRIs were buying Some More Foods products from organic stores. Some of them took the packets to stores in Qatar and one shopkeeper came forward to stock them. That gave me the first order from Qatar. Till today, he procures our products,” Deepa says.
The products are available through Some More Foods' website besides Amazon, Big Basket and Flipkart. It also has a strong offline presence in modern trade, including D-Mart, SPAR and LuLu and will be available in Reliance Retail outlets soon.
The revenues of Some More Foods have been doubling every year since 2017.
“We have been growing 2X annually since 2017. Last month we had sales of Rs18 lakh and will close this fiscal with revenues of Rs3 crore,” Deepa says.
She uses a third-party manufacturing facility for production. “We give them the recipes and the finished product is brought to our warehouse,” she says.
“I develop the recipes with my friends who are leading nutritionists and seniors from my college. They helped in product formulation,” the woman entrepreneur says.
Deepa is now setting up a manufacturing facility for millet noodles in Tirupur. “Trial runs will start next week. It will have a production capacity of one tonne per shift and it can run in three shifts if required. Fried as well as non-fried noodles can be manufactured at the facility,” she says.
(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)