It came as a shock for the family, says Francy Joshimon, when her father was diagnosed with cancer in 2018.
“He was a very active person and always particular about eating healthy food. We couldn’t believe it, so we looked for the possible reasons behind it. It was clear that chemical and preservative content in food products eventually affected his health,” she says.
“So we started looking for clean and organic food products that could help him improve his health while undergoing treatment. But to our surprise, we couldn’t find many options in the local market,” Francy tells The Better India.
A few months later, she lost her father. This, she says, was a life-changing experience.
Aiming to prevent more such incidents from happening, Francy decided she would usher in change herself. A few months after her father’s death, she set up a small business from her home at Karalam in Thrissur, Kerala to make healthy and organic food products — Minnus Fresh Food.
Named after her daughter, the brand sells mixes and value-added products made with ingredients such as jackfruits, millets, and more. Francy says these are 100 per cent preservative and chemical free.
Starting in 2018 with a few jackfruit-based products, the brand currently offers over 50 varieties of organic products and even exports outside India.
Starting small with fewer products
Francy started her venture with a small all-women group by making homemade jackfruit puttu powder. “At the time, there was a lot of discussion around jackfruit and its health benefits. After doing a lot of research and talking to experts from Kerala Agriculture University, we decided to specialise in jackfruit first,” says Francy, who has only studied till class 12.
“According to several studies, jackfruit has the potential to alleviate pain in cancer patients, especially for those undergoing radiation or chemotherapy,” she adds.
“Other than puttu powder, we also made a few jackfruit and millet-based products like health mixes and immunity boosters, which were mostly sold to cancer patients in nearby regions through different social groups,” she elaborates.
As her business picked up eventually, Francy decided to set up a processing unit in 2019.
Following the suggestions given by the experts at the university, her husband Joshimon, a mechanical engineer, helped her set up the required machinery for processing and packaging in the unit.
“We took a loan amount of Rs 15.5 lakh for the machinery. We also used our personal savings and invested around Rs 30 lakh in setting up the building alone,” she says.
Organic raw materials from local farmers
As the business flourished, Francy added more value-added products using different raw materials like banana, tapioca, wheat, millets, and so on. “We always make sure to use high quality and organic raw materials for our products. After sourcing, they are thoroughly cleaned and dried before we process and convert them into different products,” she explains.
She says that all raw materials are organically cultivated and sourced from local farmers in and around her village in Thrissur. “Farmers here often face difficulty in finding a good market for products like jackfruit, tapioca, banana and turmeric. So when we buy their products, we make sure that they get a fair price,” she says, adding that products like rice required for making the puttu powder are cultivated in her own land.
“We harvest around 2,500 kg of rice per year. We don’t sell it directly but utilise it for our business,” she says.
Minnus Fresh also offers health mixes priced between Rs 50 and Rs 350. They also sell several traditional snacks such as banana chips, chakka varatti and so on.
“On an average, we are now selling around 400 kg of puttu powder, 250 kg of chips, 100 kg of rice powder and 50 kg of health mix annually,” says Francy.
The puttu powder, which Francy says is the fastest-selling, comes in eight different varieties — jackfruit, jackfruit ragi, banana mix, banana mix ragi, tapioca, bran mix germinated rice, sprouted ragi, and sprouted wheat.
The importance of eating clean
Unlike many other enterprises who had to face serious challenges during the beginning of the pandemic, Francy says that her business grew exponentially, as there was a higher demand for organic products in the market. “People realised the importance of consuming clean organic food and switching to a healthy lifestyle,” she adds.
Regardless, they faced a serious challenge during the initial years of their business. “The major challenge was the shelf life of our products. As our products are organic and completely free of any preservatives, it was difficult for us to market them, as the shelf life was very short,” she says.
“We met a few experts from the Kerala Agricultural University to find a solution for the shelf life of our products. After several tests that went on for around six months, they suggested we make a few changes in the formulations and methods of processing the products and asked us to dry them according to their moisture content, thereby helping them stay fresh for longer,” she explains.
This helped them extend their products’ shelf life to three months, she says, with a few exceptions, which have a shelf life of just one month.
Rajive Paul, the managing director of Chungath Jewellery and a regular customer of Minnus Fresh food products, says, “I have been buying several products like chips, chakka varatti, etc, in bulk from them for the past few years. As I run a jewellery business, I would include their products in our gift hampers for customers. Besides, I also distribute them among my friends and family during occasions like Onam.”
“I chose their products mainly because of the quality and also because of the fact that they are safer than other brands that are available in the market,” he adds.
Minnus Fresh Food Products are marketed mostly in Kerala through local shops, supermarkets and Kudumbashree outlets, and are also sold via Facebook and WhatsApp.
“Besides, our products are exported to the UAE where there is a high demand,” says Francy, who is currently looking forward to the expansion of her unit.
For more information or placing orders, you can visit their Facebook page or contact them at 9188857319.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)