Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Anushka Sharma-backed Wholsum Foods launches high-protein food brand, Millé

The actor has invested in the health food startup, which runs the nearly Rs100-crore brand Slurrp Farm, targeted at children. With Millé, can it replicate its success with adults, and bring millets back to the centre of the plate?

Pankti Mehta Kadakia
Published: Jun 15, 2023 11:16:42 AM IST
Updated: Jun 19, 2023 10:59:58 AM IST

Anushka Sharma-backed Wholsum Foods launches high-protein food brand, Millé

Actress Anushka Sharma eating Millé flakes

Through the seven-year journey of building Slurrp Farm, which is marked by its colourful packaging and interesting take on child nutrition, the team noticed a curious development.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the customer service team found that a lot of young adults were consuming their millet noodles, pancakes and their vegetable dosa mixes, which retail in packets that showcase cartoons of Indian animals—with no children in sight. “We would be told things like, ‘My gym instructor has asked me to eat this’,” Wholsum Foods co-founder Shauravi Malik says. That’s what got the wheels turning for Wholsum Foods’ second brand, Millé, which uses the same millet-focussed ethos of Slurrp Farm, but is composed for adult requirements.

Millé, the launch of which was announced on Thursday morning by Bollywood actor and Wholsum Foods investor Anushka Sharma, offers high-protein, low-carb and low-sugar food mixes. The mixes are largely gluten-free.

Millé’s range of products includes buckwheat millet breakfast cereal; millet pancake mixes in flavours such as blueberry, banana chocolate chip, classic and chocolate; millet cake and brownie mixes in chocolate, coffee and vanilla-based flavours; and foxtail millet wholegrain combinations that work as rice replacements. Pasta and noodle mixes will follow.

But if adults were eating Slurrp Farm anyway, why the whole new brand?

Anushka Sharma-backed Wholsum Foods launches high-protein food brand, MilléShauravi Malik, co-Founder of Wholsum Foods (parent company of Slurrp Farm and Millé)

“So, there are two or three strands to this,” Malik says. “In fact, we have tried to do some more adult products within Slurrp Farm that haven’t worked quite as well as the others. I think when you try to retrofit something to a brand, it may not pan out, and confuses the customer. Slurrp Farm, at its heart, is for a child who is 12 years or younger, and it’s very much led by the imagery of Indian animals and colours, and while many adults are happy to eat them, there are many others who do not think it is for them.”

Also read: Storyboard | What really happens when celebrity brand endorsers turn investors

The second, and perhaps more important factor, is that the composition itself is different.

“Both brands do millet pancakes, for instance. The Millé ones have higher plant protein to tackle India’s protein deficiency levels, and we do not think children need to fix those yet,” she adds. “The breakfast flakes have protein of between 17 and 21 grams, so that you aren’t leaving home in the morning with a carb-load that corn flakes give you. So, we’re also looking to offer low-carb alternatives to a diabetes-prone population.”

Slurrp Farm, which claims to see 200 percent year-on-year growth and projects a Rs180-crore revenue by the end of this year, is present in 2,000 stores across India. It hopes to hit profitability by 2025. Millé, in its first phase, will be available online on its website and ecommerce retailers such as Amazon, as well as through select stores in 10 Indian cities. Distribution, Malik says, remains a challenge in India.

Anushka Sharma-backed Wholsum Foods launches high-protein food brand, MilléMeghana Narayan, co-founder, Wholsum Foods

“It’s not like in the US where you spend three years trying to crack that one big-box retailer, and suddenly, you’re all over the country. We’ve been a D2C brand, but we have seen that you do need to be physically present at stores, and meet customers where they shop. Digital is great to build brand awareness, but we find that 90 percent of our customers still shop at physical stores,” she says.

Also read: Why India should lead the millet revolution

Millé’s release also coincides with 2023 being labelled the ‘International year of millets’ by the UN. It calls itself a ‘supergrain company actively promoting the consumption of the nutrient-rich, climate-smart grain, which uses very little water and no fertilisers or pesticides’.

“We never set out to be a millet-based brand,” Malik says. “It happened because we’re learning as we go. We only got more and more interested in them as we did more research, and have worked hard to develop recipes that don’t use processed ingredients, but still taste yummy, mixing different millets together with lentils and legumes. As we see climate change impacts and water shortages, India is going to have to rely more on millets, than on things like rice, for instance.”

It’s been a year since Anushka Sharma came on board as investor and brand ambassador at Wholsum Foods, and since then, the firm has seen revenues double. “I’m not sure that can all be attributed to a celebrity endorsement, since we saw similar growth the year before. But it definitely makes the consumer understand your message faster, and what helps is that she genuinely does eat like that,” Malik says. “The math does add up.”

“The company has built a lot of trust over the past seven years,” Anushka Sharma says. “Millé offers the perfect combination of high plant protein and fibre. We are happy to be part of the millet movement, which brings the ancient climate-friendly supergrain back to the mainstream.”