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Looking for interesting ways to incorporate millets in your diet, but don’t know where to start? This startup has you covered. Monsoon Harvest, a Coimbatore based venture set up by husband and wife team- Srivardhan Sethuram and Umeshwari Machani, is making sure that eating millets is no longer just about idlis and dosas. I spoke to Umeshwari about their entrepreneurial journey, about millets, chocolates, orange peels and a whole bunch of wonderful ingredients. Here is the story of Monsoon Harvest.
The team’s Monsoon Harvest journey began with experiments in their kitchen and a shared interest in food. “We were always interested in food. A couple of months after my son was born, my husband started looking into ideas for a food-based venture. This was late 2014. We wanted to work with millets because they are such an integral part of our food culture. All around us we saw dishes like ragi dosa and kambu sadam (pearl millet rice). But we wanted to bring a contemporary twist to millets, to make them approachable for everybody. We started making granola bars initially. When my son was a year old, I stepped in. I was making this muesli at home with millets. Now that we had the facility, I wanted to see if we could include that as well. We have a food technologist, and he helps us in bringing these home recipes to the commercial side. That’s how it all began.”
In 2015 the team launched their products in a small gourmet bazaar in Coimbatore, and right off the bat, they realized that people were looking for something like this. “It was a small pop-up. We had plain brown paper bags with block prints and a stamp that simply said -muesli with cranberry and almonds.We got a great response and the products moved well.”
Monsoon Harvest products now come in attractive bags filled with millets not just in the form of mueslis but also as crackers and breakfast cereals. Manufactured in their facility in Coimbatore, their products are also available online and in stores across Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Delhi and Mumbai. “People are ready for good quality products on the market shelves. The options available now are either high in sugar, or preservatives, or are imported and very expensive. These are the issues we are trying to address with our products. We want to appeal to people who want something easy and fast and to people who are health conscious. But we also want to appeal to people like my grandparents. When it comes to food, everybody wants something delicious and healthy. That’s what we bring to the table.”
The Product Shelf
“We have toasted millet mueslis in four different flavours,” Umeshwari says talking about the products. The flavours include “Cranberry and Almond”, “Roasted Cacao Bean and Raisin,” “Dark Chocolate with Orange Peel” and “Fig & Honey with salted Pistachios”. “Roasted Cacao Bean and Raisin is my favourite,” says Umeshwari, “It gives you a nice hit of chocolate without being too sweet. Raisins add the right amount of sweetness. The Fig & Honey is also a huge seller, and it’s my son’s personal favourite. He picks out the salted pistachios in it.”
She also talks about the buttermilk and millet crackers, a product created with a specific purpose. “We wanted to use the unsung millets like kodo, barnyard and foxtail. They are also highly nutritious. When we were working on the buttermilk crackers, that was our main focus. We did four flavour pairings with the crackers as well.” Umeshwari explains that just like the millets, other ingredients are also incorporated with a lot of thought. The peppers are freshly crushed, orange peels are used to ensure maximum flavours and the chocolate is made in-house. “You will find actual flavour specks because of these ingredients, and that really makes a difference.”
The Clusters & Flakes Breakfast Cereals were designed for their youngest consumers, although she emphasises that adults might have a tough time staying away as well. “We wanted to offer products which are different than what children usually get. I noticed people were mixing the muesli with cereal. So we thought why don’t we do the clusters which people love, add the millets flakes, and then add the freeze-dried fruits to them. That’s how we came about making the Clusters & Flakes.”
Thinking Beyond Products
“Millets and Palm Jaggery are normally grown and harvested by small farmers. Consuming these products is a contributing step towards developing a sustainable agricultural system,“ writes the team on the Monsoon Harvest website. Why is this important, I ask Umeshwari. “My background is in developmental economics. I have a strong sense of helping the marginal farmers because they are the ones who are actually growing this. They receive no subsidies what so ever.There is no trickle down effect to them. Millets are ideal because they need minimal inputs. They are rain-fed. They are heirloom seeds. I feel like we are going to be moving away from everything being organic to everything being more sustainable. Monsoon Harvest is our way of emphasizing this fact.”
Plans ahead? “We are looking at expanding product offerings in the breakfast and snack segment. I think people need more options in these segments.” And her advice for future food entrepreneurs? “It is a fun thing to be doing, but it will also give you a lot of sleepless nights,” Umeshwari laughs as she adds that afterthought. “But on a serious note if you have good products in mind you should put them out there. Products do most of the talking and if people really like them, they will make sure they find it and buy it. There is a lot of innovation possible in the food sector. Honestly, the sky is the limit.”