Lessons from a lotus seed: Bringing makhana to South India
How love for Bihar’s staple makhana helped build an all-woman enterprise in a small hamlet in interior Karnataka
Raksha Shenoy remembers her first attempt at preparing makhana or lotus seeds, after reading about its nutritional value. This was about five or six years ago when this superfood had just begun to appear on supermarket shelves in South India.
“I had heard about makhana being eaten during days of fast in North India, and that it was good for health. I looked up a few tips and recipes online and prepared a snack. It took a couple of attempts to get the hang of roasting it,” laughs Bengaluru-based Raksha.
She remembers finding it “crunchy and delicious; it felt good to snack on something healthy and tasty.” But she also noticed that she was not the only one struggling with the snack. “Though popped makhana is available, it has to be roasted and seasoned, and is not an attractive snack choice for most people who prefer ready-to-eat products,” she adds.
The solution was in her own hands. Raksha had always wanted to get involved in rural women empowerment, so setting up a unit that would provide employment in a zero-opportunity locale to manufacture snacks seemed to be a good idea. “We wanted something in the healthy food segment,” she adds.
“South India is a fairly new market for this superfood. I chose a rural area near Karkala in Udupi, which is my native place, to establish this unit because I knew there was a dearth of job opportunities there. The people from my village would migrate in search of jobs and that was not a viable proposition for most women there,” says Raksha, who had also moved to Bengaluru for work.
Raksha and her father Gopinath Shenoy, also an entrepreneur, decided to run their operations out of Miyar, a few kilometres from Karkala. And that is how Nummy (short for naturally yummy) makhana was launched in August last year. In less than a year, this small-town business is already shipping its products across the country, as well as to retail outlets in Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
“We wanted to bring out a simple product; our flavours are just three basic ones — spicy, tangy and cheesy — that would appeal to most Indian palates. Even our packaging depicts a simple girl dreaming of something nice,” says Raksha, “We source seeds from Bihar and have roasting, seasoning and packing machines which a group of 10 women at the unit have learnt to operate,” adding that a pulverizer for makhana-based health mix powders and flour is a recent addition
Simplicity, as their core value even, extends beyond the product and into their operations as well.
“Initially, the women were hesitant as they did not know how to operate machines and most thought it was a man’s job,” she says, adding that it took her about a month to educate employees about the product. She explains, “Since lotus seeds were a completely new item here, we had to start from scratch. We showed them videos of how the seeds are harvested, how they look and how they pop once roasted.”
The pandemic and the ensuing new normal, ironically, helped their operations. “There was an increased awareness of hygiene, with workers continuously washing hands. Other habits like donning caps and changing footwear at the factory were easier to inculcate.”
Nummy is available online at eatnummy.com, Amazon and Big Basket.