Colouring the white revolution

Set up in 1985, ERCMPU transformed itself from a cooperative supplying milk and curd to one that produces value-added products from milk, and owns restaurants, tea shops and even bakeries.
Solar panels being set up at Milma’s dairy farm in Tripunithura
Solar panels being set up at Milma’s dairy farm in Tripunithura Photo | Express

KOCHI: The Ernakulam Regional Cooperative Milk Producers Union Ltd (ERCMPU) is milking the potential of diversification. And with its finger in many pies, ERCMPU has been remarkably successful in all its forays.

But to what end? The cooperative’s various efforts are directed at providing dairy farmers with incentives and assuring them their financial well-being. Now, adding another milestone on its journey to becoming a role model in the country, ERCMPU is set to become the first dairy cooperative with a milk-processing unit running fully on solar power.

Set up in 1985, ERCMPU transformed itself from a cooperative supplying milk and curd to one that produces value-added products from milk, and owns restaurants, tea shops and even bakeries. “We have come a long way and are in the process of planning more projects for the future,” says M T Jayan, chairman. One of the more prestigious projects that is set to become a reality in June is the 2MW solar-power project, he adds.

“The Rs 14-crore project has been financed with a loan from the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). The solar plant at Tripunithura dairy farm will help us save a great deal on our electricity bill. All the money that we are trying to earn will go towards the uplift of dairy farmers in four districts — Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kottayam and Idukki,” he said.

ERCMPU is one of the three regional unions that make up the Kerala Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (KCMMF), known by its trade name Milma.

Laying claim to be the first dairy cooperative in the country to have a unit completely running on solar power, Jayan said, “We would like to expand the project to other units in Ernakulam region. That would be one for the future.” But the solar project alone is not what sets the union apart.

Restaurants & supermarkets

The realisation that supplying milk and milk products wouldn’t be enough to boost revenues forced ERCMPU officials to consider other avenues. “We have developed many value-added dairy products. This also gave rise to the idea of running a supermarket to sell all Milma products. The supermarket in Edappally has been well received,” says Jayan.

After the supermarket, Milma branched out into restaurants. Making the case for opening an eatery chain, Jayan points out, “We have all the necessary ingredients needed for running a restaurant. So, we thought why not. The first restaurant under the trade name Milma Refresh was set up at Kottappuram, in Thrissur district. It is a vegetarian restaurant.” The success of the venture saw the cooperative drawing up plans to open similar restaurants in Edappally, Tripunithura and Muvattupuzha, and Ramapuram, in Thrissur.

Building on the success in Thrissur, Jayan says, “ERCMPU has been inviting expressions of interest to grow Milma Refresh as a franchise. There is one running successfully in Thrissur. Our franchisee fee is Rs 1.45 lakh. The franchisees will have to run the restaurants based on the rules and guidelines laid down by Milma.” All these restaurants must use milk and milk products, such as butter and ghee, besides other Milma products in the food that they serve.

ERCMPU also came up with the idea of setting up mobile tea shops. “There are around 5 to 10 such shops in Thrissur district. We are planning to introduce these in other districts, too,” Jayan stresses.

Milma booths in schools

Another interesting initiative has been the Milma booth. “Under this project, we set up milk booths in schools by tying up with managements. We have set up 16 booths in schools in Ernakulam, Thrissur and Kottayam,” he adds. “More schools have approached us on setting up booths,” says Jayan, adding the schools considering the project are in the aided and unaided sectors.

Bakeries & value addition

Rather uniquely, ERCMPU has also successfully made a mark in the bakery and confectionery sector. This was, however, achieved without any major investment. “We didn’t have to invest in the infrastructure, which was available in the form of chilling units that had gone defunct,” says Jayan.

These plants became obsolete when, with the advent of technology, every dairy unit got its own chiller. “So, it was decided to convert them into bakeries. The one in Chalakudy has already started functioning. The breads and buns baked at this bakery have been a hit, prompting us to start bakeries at the former chilling plants in Muvattupuzha and Marangattupilly, Kottayam,” he says.

The cooperative is now developing other products such as pudding cakes, vanilla cupcakes, milk rusk and different types of cookies. “We are testing the market and once we are convinced of the demand, we will venture into producing other bakery items as well,” he says. The farmers’ collective has, of late, also come out with chocolates, ‘pulissery’ and other value-added milk products.

On tying up with corporates, Jayan says, “We got a huge order for the supply of ‘sambharam’ to the offices of NeST. We have been receiving such offers from many other companies and establishments.”

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