Big Idea

Soul Food

The subsistence crop of yesteryears, ragi has been revived through breakfast cereals, snacks and health drinks

RA Chandroo

How often do we skip a meal or grab something unhealthy but convenient while rushing to work? Bengaluru-based Kottaram Agro Foods, under the brand Soulfull, has an alternative. Grab the instant Smoothix in almond flavour or snack on some Ragi Bites on your way. Better yet, switch from your rice and wheat breakfast to healthier Ragi Flakes.

The start-up co-founder Prashant Parameswaran first found inspiration in the “superfood” of the West — quinoa — while he was working in the US in 2005. “It begged the question, why can’t we do something with the many ancient grains of India,” says the 39-year-old. After he returned to India in 2009 “in pursuit of these ancient grains”, he started researching.

Making it happen

The founding team of Amith Sebastian (40), Rasika Iyer (35) and Parameswaran came together with friends and family to pool in around Rs.250 million to launch the brand in 2011. Parameswaran cites renowned geneticist MS Swaminathan, who is incidentally related to him, as an inspiration. The launch of Soulfull was held at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai.

The trio assigned themselves definitive roles, with Parameswaran focusing on ideation and product development, Iyer looking at marketing, and Sebastian looking at operations and sales. “The first two to three years were spent determining the right set of products,” says Parameswaran. They sought the help of research institutions such as the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) to understand how they could add value to the grain and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad to gauge market opportunities. Agricultural experts and food technologists from the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) in Mysuru helped them engineer machines and put together processes for the final production.

One of the first ch

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