Diversified conglomerate ITC Ltd has launched Mission Millets to educate consumers and empower farmers and will use its enterprise strength across agri business, food and hospitality sectors to launch a host of offerings to grow the market.

According to Sanjiv Puri, Chairman, ITC, the whole purpose of Mission Millets is to see how to bring millets to the mainstream. A whole range of products across categories including cookies, vermicelli, pasta and noodles would be launched shortly across various price points to encourage consumption. ITC Hotels will also serve a whole range of millet-based food starting from cereals to desserts to suit the varied needs of consumers.

“Agriculture is most vulnerable to extreme weather events. I think millets can play a significant role in addressing this issue because it is nutritious, planet-friendly and resilient. It uses 70 per cent less water than rice, it grows in half the time that wheat grows, it doesn’t require the same degree of fertility in the soil, it doesn’t require a huge amount of inputs and low carbon footprint. Millets are more resilient than other crops to adverse weather conditions and it is nutritious and it is high in dietary protein, fibre and micronutrients,” Puri said highlighting the key strengths of millet at a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

While he did not divulge details regarding the estimated budget for scaling up millets as a category, he said ITC is committed to investing what is required to grow the segment.

Barriers to overcome

Millets, he said, could play a transformative role in food systems in the years to come. However, there are some barriers that need to be overcome so as to grow the market for millets.

Though millet was considered to be a wonder grain, with Green Revolution, it has been forgotten hence there are not many products available in the market and little awareness regarding how to use the products. On the supply side, it is not a widely grown crop due to demand constraints and there is not as much focus on storage and processing as there is for popular food, he said.

“Therefore we have decided to bring all our enterprise strength together. We have strong strength across food, agri-business and hospitality and all of this will come together. We will educate consumers on the benefits and empower farmers and bring in better agronomy practices,” he said.

To work with FPOs

ITC will initially work with 20 FPOs (farmer producer organisation) for millets cultivation. It will empower farmers with knowledge on soil, crop, produce, farming techniques, facilitate better production, build supply and enhance livelihoods of farmers. The company’s agri business division is currently sourcing millets from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. It has implemented two PPP projects one each in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh in partnership with Indian Institute of Millets Research.

“To encourage consumers to mainstream these products, most of our categories under food division will see inclusion of millets. There are already some products in the market some more is expected to come. In the hotels division also there will be some recipes centered around millets,” he pointed out.

It is a “virgin territory” right now but it is expected to develop and will have lot more good quality nutritious products and that will help consumers develop the taste. “Consumers are getting more and more concerned about planet and nutrition and as awareness builds up the interest of consumers to go for millets will increase,” he said.