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INTERVIEW

“We are on course to double business this FY”
Monday, 11 November, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Kottaram Agro Foods, incepted in 2011, is the face behind the Soulfull brand, which is known for its millet-based delights spanning from Ragi Flakes, Millet Muesli, Almond Smoothix and Oats Flakes.
 
Soulfull has witnessed 100% business growth in the last year. Last year, the company secured a funding of Rs 350 million by Aavishkaar, expanding its distribution reach and to touch over 50,000 retail outlets over the next three years. With the government’s focus on making millets the superfood by 2020, the brand is planning aggressively to take the snacking category by storm. The company works closely with government agencies and agricultural bodies. The year 2018 was Year of Millets in India and the brand was at the forefront to drive the same through products and marketing initiatives. Prashant Parameswaran, CEO and MD, Kottaram Agro Foods, gives more details on the company, the brand and its growth, in an interaction with Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:
 
How is the snacking market for healthy foods faring in India? In your opinion what is the size of the market? What are the visible trends that you sight in this space of healthy food options?
The Indian consumer today is no longer bound by the three fixed meals a day. The consumption moments have increased and as a testament to this, the market for snack food segment is on the rise. According to a report, the revenue in the snack food segment amounts to $5,254 million in 2019 and the market is expected to grow annually by 7.5% CAGR 2019-2023. With this, there is also a rise in health-consciousness among our 21st century customers who lead a busy lifestyle and are constantly looking for quick healthy fixes for their multiple meals each day. This presents the brand with a huge opportunity. We are capitalising on this opportunity through our product offerings which bring the goodness of ancient Indian grains to consumers in different formats suited to their lifestyle, taste and convenience.
 
Additionally, increasing urbanisation, growth in the number of double-income households, and rising time poverty have resulted in changing food consumption patterns. This has fueled the demand for convenience and healthy foods in the country.
 
UN is making millets the superfood by 2023. How would your company be positioned to maximise the growth opportunity with this?
As a fast-evolving FMCG company, our vision is to bring back the goodness of India’s ancient grains by making them relevant in the 21st century. As a superfood and a smart food, millets are beneficial to consumers, farmers and thereby contribute to a sustainable ecosystem. It is good to see that Indian and international institutes are realising the potential of millets and the brand is leading the way to partner with them to popularise the grains. To promote millets as a superfood, we work closely with government agencies and agricultural bodies. Year 2018 was Year of Millets in India and the brand was at the forefront to drive the same through their products and marketing initiatives. The brand has been interacting with government agencies on thought leadership in this area. Therefore, the joint effort in educating consumers coupled with our constant innovations and push to take them to the consumers’ tables is where we see growth and millets getting international recognition will only going to further the brand’s growth story.
 
What are the strengths of your brand, which is competing in the market with tough competition?
Our biggest USP and competitive advantage is the use of millets in our products that none of our competitors has been able to replicate. Millets not only bring nutrition to the consumer, it is good for the environment and the farmer. This chain of benefits creates a very strong story for the brand and has created a huge affinity for our brand which has helped us stand out in front of contemporary brands.
 
Additionally, product development is at the heart of our offerings, and has been a force of growth for the brand. We have developed an innovative range of products keeping in mind the developing taste buds of our 21st century customers. Today, many Indians are unaware of the potential of millets and have general myths built in their minds about millets being tasteless. The brand leveraged this as an opportunity to use the power of innovation to turn millets into a healthy, convenient and tasty snack. We have introduced product options for every moment in the day. For breakfast, we have offerings through flakes and muesli, if you are missing meals or in-between snacks we have Smoothix, for kids snacks we have our flagship brand, called Ragi Bites, people who like savoury products can have Desi Muesli or the Masala Oats.
 
Which are your fastest growing products? What are the efforts to export these products?
Ragi Bites has been the fastest growing and the biggest sub-brand under the master brand. We see rising popularity for our brands from across the globe and therefore, the brand recently went international with Lulu Dubai. Additionally, we are also keeping an eye out for such strategic partnerships while we constantly build on our media presence and increase the demand for our products.
 
The company received a funding of Rs 350 million. Spell out the expansion and other initiatives that are carried out with this amount.
A major chunk of the investments has gone into making India’s first state-of-the-art value- added millets factory in Bangalore. In-house production has ensured tighter quality controls and faster turnarounds to meet demand. A portion of the investments has also been used for marketing efforts and increasing footprint across the country.
 
Provide details about your manufacturing facility.
The brand has its own manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Bengaluru. It is the first value-added millets production plant in India. We also work on third-party manufacturing model for a few of our product lines.
­
How easy it is to get the right qualified manpower to work at your facility?
The core R&D and manufacturing team is very strong and intact since inception. Hence any new manpower training becomes easy and we do not face issues when new people join the facility. Standardisation of processes has also helped over reliance on manual interventions.
 
What are the challenges encountered by companies like you in an economic environment that is gloomy for purchases?
The brand is on a growth path and on course to double business this financial year as well. Economic slowdown has not affected our progress which is a testament to our products becoming an integral part of consumer’s daily lives.
 
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