W Power 2024

Meghana Narayan: The millet mom

Meghana Narayan is an international swimming champion, a Rhodes scholar, and co-founder of the millet-powered Wholsum Foods, which has attracted big-ticket investments, and is eyeing profitability by 2025

Pankti Mehta Kadakia
Published: Mar 22, 2024 01:32:37 PM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2024 01:58:39 PM IST

Meghana Narayan: The millet momMeghana Narayan, Co-founder, Wholsum Foods Image: Madhu Kapparath

Meghana Narayan was nine when she first learnt to swim, mainly as a survival skill. At 22, she had more than 400 national gold medals to her credit, and represented India at the Asian Games. But even back then, the nudge was clear. “You should keep doing this, but around a point, there will be a second career to build,” she recalls. “We would joke about how the boys would get the jobs with the swimming federation, and those weren’t things that would ever even come to us.”

Not that many women may have taken them on, she quickly adds. Back then, young and incredibly focussed on their training, the women’s swim team—who would often stay 20 crammed in a room while on tour—didn’t ponder over the inequalities from a gender perspective.

“We thought of it more as—we get it, cricket is amazing, and all the other sports are treated as the 17th cousin who’s not really thought about at all,” she quips. “A little bit of love to badminton and tennis, and you’re seeing the effects. In some ways, it’s the natural evolution in a country’s developmental priority, and I believe it will come.”

Meghana Narayan: The millet momToday, Narayan has hung up her swimsuit and is the co-founder of Wholsum Foods, which retails the popular healthy instant food brand Slurrp Farm for kids, and Mille for adults, both of which champion the use of Indian millets. Their ranges, then, include ragi, jowar, foxtail millets and more, fashioned into highly palatable instant noodles, pancakes and dosa for children; and high protein pasta, cereal and rice replacements for adults. The idea is to offer easy food options that are good for you, and also good for the planet.

Narayan’s co-founder is UK-based former investment banker Shauravi Malik, who she was introduced to while on a stint in London, by Utsav Baijal, who later became one of Wholsum’s early investors.

Baijal, who is partner at Apollo Management, says, “Both Meghana and Shauravi were close friends, and I always felt they had the same zeal, grit and positive outlook needed to be successful. I knew they would end up becoming friends if I introduced them; having them join hands to create a company was an added bonus.”

The co-founder came first, Narayan says, and then the business idea, when the two became parents. They saw a market gap, and therefore, an opportunity, in creating fuss-free, healthy instant food for children, which later expanded to adults.

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“It is one of my life’s greatest joys to work with a leader like Meghana,” Malik tells Forbes India. “She is so intensely ambitious, yet has the ability to laugh like crazy in the most stressful moment. She is the pace-setter for everyone, and in some sense, her childhood sports training never left her. No matter where we are, she is up by 5.30 am, and ready to conquer the world by 6.30 am.”
When the two were shopping for investment, Baijal quickly stepped forward. “They were both individually among the most talented people I knew, so my investment was more into them,” he says. “But more importantly, I believe a healthier, more ethical food company was the need of the day. I loved the brand, the positioning, and finally, the fact that my daughters liked their cereal!”

Meghana Narayan: The millet mom

Wholsum Foods has raised a total of $17 million (about ₹141 crore) from investors, including actor Anushka Sharma, Fireside Ventures, Sharrp Ventures and others. It has doubled in growth every year for the past three years, and aims to be a ₹500 crore—profitable—company by mid-2025. It currently retails and Tier 1 and II cities across India, as well as in the UAE, UK and US.“As women, we’re so used to brushing off subliminal sexism that we never thought over it, but I wonder how many male founders get asked at meetings what it is that their wives do,” Narayan says.

 “We get that all the time—people think it’s these two men running the company. Or we’ll be asked ‘When will you professionalise’?”

On the flipside, she adds, “Shauravi was eight months pregnant when we raised our angel round, of course from friends and family, but also from Ashish Dhawan (philanthropist), Sanjeev Bikhchandani (Info Edge), Samrath Bedi (Forest Essentials). There was no way to hide a pregnancy, of course, and no one questioned us. So we’ve seen both sides.” 

(This story appears in the 22 March, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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