Agri Business

Kerala study hopes to get neera business flowing again

V Sajeev Kumar Kochi | Updated on September 28, 2021

Farmer producer companies hit by lack of funding and technology support to extend the coconut drink’s shelf life

Reviving fresh hope among coconut farmers, the Kerala Government plans a new study on ways to enhance the business prospects of the health drink extracted from coconut palm.

 

The State Agriculture Department has been entrusted with the study to find out the market opportunities and technologies to extend the product’s shelf life.

Sources say official apathy derailed the project, pushing into debt many farmers producer companies (FPC) engaged in neera production and processing.

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Vinodkumar P, chairman, Consortium of Coconut Producer Companies, told BusinessLine that 18 companies were actively involved in neera production and operated smoothly until 2016. However, denial of subsidies, dearth of technology to extend shelf life, high production cost, absence of branding, and lack of technical and managerial expertise were among the reasons that stalled the project. The change of guard both in the government and the Coconut Development Board made things worse, he said.

The taste of neera changes within four hours and technology is needed to preserve it longer. The monsoon period is considered ideal for neera production and it must be preserved until summer to make the business viable, he said.

An FPC source said that the Palakkad Coconut Producer Company had, with the support of CPCRI, CFTRI and Tetrapak India, developed a neera product that could be marketed in six flavours. The Centre had approved the project with an outlay of ₹25 crore under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) scheme, but it did not progress due to financial constraints.

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A leading soft drink major in Mumbai had suggested co-branding and launching neera pan-India, but had insisted that the FPCs would need a five-year production licence, given the cost of branding. The Kerala government had turned down the request and now the neighbouring Karnataka government is considering a five-year licence to enable the pan-India launch of neera, the sources added.

Ubais Ali, CEO of the Kochi-based Mezhukkattil Mills, said neera sales lacked a visionary business approach. The move to put the farming community at the centre of marketing efforts had backfired, as farmers usually avoid risk and cannot afford to wait for results, he explained. On the other hand, industries focussing on coconut value-addition can help market neera better, Ali said, citing the success of virgin coconut oil marketing in domestic and overseas markets.

Published on September 28, 2021

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