The Rural Innovation Series: Holy Cow, Happy Farmer and Better Toast!

From developing strong dairy supply chains in rural areas to ethical sourcing from farmers and innovative packaging, Milk Mantra is giving the entire dairy industry one good makeover.


From developing strong dairy supply chains in rural areas to ethical sourcing from farmers and innovative packaging, Milk Mantra is giving the entire dairy industry one good makeover.

Milk and dairy products are one of our basic needs, products whose quality mean a lot to us. What we don’t see or know a great deal about is the quality of life of the farmer who makes this fresh, hygienic produce available to us. And that’s where Milk Mantra comes in.

On one end, Milk Mantra works closely with rural dairy farmers on their needs and the quality of their products, and at the other end, innovates on the packaging formats for an urban population in Eastern India.

Srikumar, Founder, Milk Mantra.

Srikumar, Founder, Milk Mantra.

According to Srikumar Misra, Founder and Managing Director of Milk Mantra, “Farmers in rural areas tend to get low prices for their products thanks to the existence of a middle man. This is primarily due to the non-availability of direct communication channels with the market and the consumer.”

A veteran of the food and beverages industry, Misra also recognised the scope in urban areas for consumption of premier dairy products, particularly fresh pasteurised milk. Working in the dairy space meant a strong linkage with the development of the agriculture sector, as farmers depend on animal husbandry as a supplementary source of income.

The Beginning

Misra spent a decade in Tata Administrative Services (TAS) working on food brands and later decided to take the entrepreneurial route. He realised that there is a huge gap between supply and demand of quality dairy products in the urban market. “I also chose dairy because it stood out in terms of market potential and the possible social impact that it could make”, says Misra.

A modern dairy plant at Gop, near Konark, ensures quality processing.

A modern dairy plant at Gop, near Konark, ensures quality processing.

Milk Mantra started off in 2009, operating from Misra’s home state of Odisha but raring to launch in other tier-2 cities in Eastern India. “We see ourselves as a wholly commercial venture with an absolute social dimension”, clarifies Misra. The venture has an annual turnover in excess of Rs 5 crores.

‘Milky Moo’ is their flagship brand of dairy products launched in Odisha. Milk Mantra works through a network of farmers who have been roped in to supply milk. The milk is then processed, packaged and sold in retail outlets or delivered home.

Dairy Development among rural farmers

About 2,500 farmers from villages in and around Puri are part of Milk Mantra’s network. These farmers have been supplied with bulk coolers (manufactured by a Swedish firm, DeLaval), in which milk can be cooled to less than 4 degrees Celsius, keeping it fresher. Chilled milk is then dropped off by the farmers at stipulated collection points (located every 5 to 10 kilometres across villages in Odisha). The milk is then taken to Milk Mantra’s state of the art dairy processing plant in Gop, near Konark, where fresh milk and paneer are processed. A German firm, Multivac, provides the technology for packaging paneer, while the milk is kept fresh through a three-layered lamination process. The milk is then sold through retail outlets as well as delivered home.

Fair Sourcing

Milk Mantra ensures that farmers get training, mentoring and a fair price for their produce.

Milk Mantra ensures that farmers get training, mentoring and a fair price for their produce.

Milk Mantra’s Ethical Milk Sourcing Programme ensures that farmers have access to the best prices as well as quality processing services. Through bridging the farmer-market gap, Milk Mantra aims to bring in dairy development in Odisha and neighbouring states. “We are very keen on making a sustainable impact on the rural poor through our business”, affirms Misra.

Ensuring transparency in the pricing and processing while dealing with farmers is something that Milk Mantra takes very seriously. “The quality of milk is checked for fat by specialist milk testing equipment and the farmer’s attestation of the price is recorded, after which the transaction is completed and receipt given”, says Misra.

The Edge

The Ethical Milk Sourcing Programme includes a farmer development and mentorship programme, where farmers have access to expert knowledge on vendors and cattle-feed input. This is the biggest socio-economic dimension in Milk Mantra’s business model.

The Right Talent

Recruiting and retaining the right kind of human resources is a crucial part of managing a start-up. “Building the senior management team was critical. I had to develop networks and dig in to my vast experience in the field to identify the kind of people who would fit into the ethos of Milk Mantra”, admits Misra.

“After cementing the senior team, keeping fresh talent motivated has also been quite a challenge. We have no fixed formula and deal with human resources in a case-to-case way. Employing people to work in a rural setting requires a different mind-set”, he adds. He is quick to add that all his 100-plus employees live and breathe the philosophy of Milk Mantra.

Counting Milk Milestones

Milky Moo and other Milk Mantra products are available in reputed food stores and delivered to the doorstep in Bhubhaneshwar.

Milky Moo and other Milk Mantra products are available in reputed food stores and delivered to the doorstep in Bhubhaneshwar.

According to Misra, there have been three major milestones in the Milk Mantra story. As a capital-intensive start-up, getting funders to believe in their potential was a hurdle. Milk Mantra today has the distinction of becoming the only venture capitalist funded agro-dairy food business in India.

The second big milestone was partnering with farmers and gaining their trust. “Farmers are very important stakeholders in our sourcing and operations. We felt a huge sense of achievement when we recently started delivering 5,000 litres a day”, he exclaims.

The launch of Milk Moo, pure milk packaged in TRIPAK and available at reputed food stores and at your doorstep in Bhubaneswar, was the third big high in this journey.

All pics courtesy Milk Mantra.

Milk Mantra was one of the finalists at Wantrapreneur, a social business competition at the Villgro Unconvention. To know more about Villgro and the Unconvention, click here. More about Milk Mantra at http://milkmantra.com/. Follow them on Facebook here.

Note: The Alternative was an online media partner at the Villgro Unconvention 2011.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hamsini Ravi is a Chennai-based development communications professional. A trained journalist, she has worked in documenting and producing media for non-profits in the areas of gender violence, equitable management of natural resources and health. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hamsini Ravi is a Chennai-based development communications professional. A trained journalist, she has worked in documenting and producing media for non-profits in the areas of gender violence, equitable management of natural resources and health. more

Discuss this article on Facebook

  • Paul Polak and Team

    Fantastic idea and great example of where the future corporation needs to be to continue to be prosperous. Paul Polak has a great TED talk on this idea: http://youtu.be/ezVxt7TkyeM

  • Chinmoybiswal

    good work sir , i am very much motivated from your work till now hopefully you continue this bullish drive to become no 1 in orissa. 

  • Omshah

    Please start a vetenary college promoted by Milk Mantra in interest of rural youths by which your co. will creat space in the heart of rural people-your basic supporting human resource

  • i,dr kagane,09822662820,livestock devlelopment officer suggest to start buffalo farms.i have low cost model with high returns .