CHENNAI: After years of battling lifestyle diseases, SC Sekar, a 64-year-old, decided to alter his food and lifestyle habits. He then decided to launch his pet venture — Akshaa Foods, wherein quality cereal crops from fresh pearl millets to foxtail and ragi are manufactured and sold. “Millets helped me in keeping my health in check. That’s when I realised its potential and decided to turn it into a business so that it can benefit consumers,” says the MD of the brand, adding that it was divine intervention when the idea to start a business sparked in his mind. From the time of its inception three months ago, the brand has managed to reach the counters of supermarkets in the city. Sekar talks to CE about conceiving the idea, marketing strategy and aim. Excerpts follow.
How did your struggle with lifestyle diseases lead to the conception of a business idea?
Over the years, due to the nature of my job as a marketing person, erratic meal timings and frequent consumption of outside food took a toll on my health. My doctor diagnosed me with hypertension and soon, other lifestyle diseases deteriorated my health. When I discussed my condition with friends, they recommended millets in my diet. When I adopted that in my diet, within a few months, my blood pressure became normal. That’s when I realised the potential of these grains and decided it should be turned into a business that will help people. Yes, it’s a commercial venture, but on a personal level, it’s more than a business. I aim to help people fight lifestyle diseases.
Is this your first business venture?
No, I was running a plastic manufacturing unit in Tamil Nadu. Incidentally, the same time when I had the idea to start the millet business, the TN government announced a state ban on single-use plastic. So, I shut the plastic factory and turned it into a millet manufacturing unit. The name Akshaa was randomly chosen for the venture by me and my wife. Later, a friend told me that the word Akshaa meant god’s blessings. I think I was destined to start this venture.
How do you plan to expand your brand?
The aim is to reach every kitchen in the country. I want to curate food expos that highlight the types of dishes that can be made out of millets. I also believe that if you can get to the women of the household, the entire family will benefit. A woman will make sure her family eats healthy. Also, I am focusing on
telling people the benefits of millets in the modern-day context — how it can cure insomnia and so on.
Millets have always been synonymous with health. Does your venture focus on any unique aspect?
Everyone knows that millets are good. But most people don’t know how to use it. When I was told to add millets to my diet, I was quite clueless. My wife helped me out by making dishes like pongal and adai with millets in it. Also, in this fast-paced world, people don’t have the time to plan a meal. So in such times, ready-to-make millet mixes are a boon. They contain all the essential nutrients to fuel a healthy life. That’s my focus.
How involved are your family members in the brand’s growth?
My wife is involved in this company in every way. Everything that is made in our factory is tested by her. She supervises quality. Whatever is made in the factory first comes to our kitchen. My wife makes different dishes with the product to test its quality.
Do you believe in having a work-life balance?
Yes, I believe in having a balance in life. Now that I eat healthy, I am also able to sleep well. I sleep by 10 pm and begin my day with a walk. Nobody in my office is made to overwork. From the time I started eating healthy, my body automatically switches off early. That is what I want my employees to do too. Streamline their work and lifestyle into a healthy one.
What are your other aspirations?
When I came to Chennai, I was a nobody. I had a tiff at home. People felt I was unworthy. I decided that I should earn a name for myself. I wanted to start a business and I did. In my initial years, I started selling washing powder along with my brother. I handled the marketing while my brother, an expert in Chemistry created the product. Many years later, now, I am in a position where I can create jobs. Apart from making people adopt a healthy lifestyle, I also want to create and provide jobs to those who need it.
What are your hobbies and how do you unwind?
I read books. I am fond of nature so I also grow some plants and spend time with them. I also unwind by watching television.
What do you like about Chennai?
The people — you’ll find people from various cultural backgrounds, speaking different languages, in this city. That’s the best part about Chennai.
What is your favourite food?
I am a health-conscious person and I opt for healthy food. My favourite item is kammankuzhu (pearl millet porridge). This porridge is a complete meal in itself.