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Millets to Mappillai Samba Rice, Chennai Woman Reinvents India’s Ancient Grains

Sanjeeta KK from Chennai is on a mission to reinvent ancient grains. Her food brand OGMO Foods offers ready-to-eat breakfast and snack mixes made out of minor millets and mappillai samba red rice.

Having a corporate job, with a fat paycheck and a fine work-life balance is something that everyone dreams of. But there are a few, like Sanjeeta KK — founder of Chennai-based OGMO Foods, who say otherwise.

Due to a medical emergency, Sanjeeta had to quit her well-paying corporate job and was forced to take a break for almost 10 years. During the break, she decided to transform her love for food into a full-fledged career.

“I started my new journey with a food blog called ‘Lite Bite’ which gave me a lot of opportunities going forward. While I created new recipes for my blog, I also tried my hand at creative food styling. I have been working for several popular brands and television commercials ever since,” Sanjeeta tells The Better India.

Her journey into a new career path as a food stylist wasn’t easy. “I used to feel nervous while accepting large projects. But as I moved forward with experience, I became more confident and, above everything, it made me happy,” she adds.

Her food-centric journey as a blogger and a food stylist encouraged her to start her own enterprise. “I always wanted to start something unique that would make a difference in society. That strong urge to make a difference made me launch OGMO Foods which specialises in value-added healthy food products,” says 52-year-old Sanjeeta.

Launched in 2018, OGMO stands for Organic Move, and the brand is an effort to bring some of the forgotten ancient grains back to the table.

Sanjeeta who had a strong inclination towards eating healthy and cooking with locally sourced vegetables and superfoods decided to incorporate her idea of healthy eating into her brand.

“My idea was a start-up with a drive to innovate food products that would create a positive impact in the community. We launched OGMO with the desire of sharing our passion for healthy eating through plant-based food products. We are also on a mission to bring back some of our forgotten indigenous grains to the mainstream,” says Sanjeeta.

OGMO’s ready-to-eat breakfast and snack mixes are made out of minor millets, which includes little millet, barnyard millet, foxtail millet, etc. Minor millets are traditional grains that are highly nutritious and gluten-free, says Sanjeeta. “They are a forgotten group of grains which were cultivated and consumed on a large scale during ancient times. And unlike rice and wheat crops which require many inputs in terms of soil fertility, water and fertilizers, millets grow well in dry regions. But longer cooking time, lack of value-addition and lack of marketing support led to a decline in the consumption of millets,” she adds.

Millet and mappillai samba rice based products by OGMO Foods
Minor millet and mappillai samba red rice based products by OGMO Foods

Sanjeeta says, “These millets are alkaline in nature and are anti acidic. They are also known for preventing Type 2 diabetes and are effective in reducing blood pressure.”

Their products are made out of wholesome millets and are minimally processed without any artificial colour, preservatives or flavours. Other than minor millets OGMO Foods also have products made out of another ancient grain called ‘Mapppillai samba red rice’.

“Mapppillai samba rice is a variety of red rice which is only found in Tamil Nadu. It is also an ancient rice variety that used to be consumed on a large scale and has a high nutritional value. We also specialise in this rice variety and have a few products made out of it,” says Sanjeetha.

Munchies out of minor millets, different types of granola mixes, idli and dosa premixes out of little millet and Mappillai samba rice, health mixes and energy bars are some of the products OGMO offers. OGMO’s overnight millet is the first of its kind in the world, claims Sanjeeta. “We also sell unpolished whole grains and whole-grain flours out of little millet, foxtail millet and mappillai samba rice. Also, we recently launched a range of products for children under the name OGMO Foods Jr,” she adds.

Sanjeeta sources millets through a small farming community in a nondescript village near Cheyyur in Tamil Nadu. She also owns a few acres of land there and has been cultivating organic vegetables and fruits.

“We have a small community of farmers in the village where our factory is located. Other than making healthy value-added products we have been on a mission to support the local farmers who cultivate these grains. Also, we are fortunate to have been able to create job opportunities for the rural women at our factory and vegetable farm,” says Sanjeeta.

Sanjeeta KK, foundet of Chennai based OGMO Foods that specialises on minor millets and mappillai samba rice
Sanjeeta KK, foundet of Chennai based OGMO Foods that specialises on minor millets and mappillai samba rice

Speaking about the challenges, she says, “Being an entrepreneur brings its own set of challenges. Work-life balance, reaching out to genuine sources of raw materials, teaching rural women the basics of processing machines, setting up the production unit were a few hurdles in the beginning. But as such, I have not faced any issues and have always been taken seriously for my work. Maybe age and experience are on my side.”

Sanjeeta’s husband, Krishnakumar, who has been working as an IT consultant for over 25 years manages the company’s operations and production.

“I am fortunate to have a strong support system of my family and friends. My husband is my pillar of strength and my two children have always been there to encourage me. My father who was a doctor and a social worker had a great influence on me. I am following his ideology of making a difference in others’ lives by doing something useful for society,” she concludes.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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