The story of the Ellas is now widely known. How amidst the Covid-19 crisis, Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech – led by Krishna Ella and his wife Suchitra – stepped up by producing an indigenous vaccine, helping India fight the dreaded virus.
While their work and success in the healthcare sector is broadly recognized, there is a lesser-known side of the Ella family, which is equally interesting. The family members of this pharma pioneer are deeply passionate about the foods and nutrition business. And it all goes back to their roots.
Though he trained to be a yeast molecular biologist and has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ella never forgot his background in farming. He grew up in a farmer’s family in Tirutanni town in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu.
According to KS Ravi, who is the Managing Director of Innova Agri Bio Park and a close confidant of Ella, the pharma pioneer has always wanted to do something to give back to the farmers’ by producing world-class value-added food products. “His quest has always been, how can we improve the farmers’ lives? How can we provide better value for the farmers’ produce? While there are several other ongoing experiments, one immediate way was to produce and sell value-added food and nutritional products. ”
Thus was born Ella Foods in August 2019, months before the Covid curse was to strike the world. Krishna and Suchitra’s daughter Jalachari Ella, who runs Ella Foods as a director of the company, explains the reason behind the move. “With my grandfather being a farmer, my father an agricultural graduate, I have for long known that farming is the backbone of any nation. I feel obligated to ensure economic sustainability to farmers, which is a driving principle of Ella Foods. ”
Jalachari Ella, Director, Ella Foods
She avers that the only way to fight the lifestyle diseases we are witnessing is through food.
“When innovation, science and the art of food preparation are brought together, what comes out is food that is safe, healthy and pure. That is what we are doing. ”
With that intention, the company has entered segments like spice powders, seasoning, pickles, instant food, beverages, herbs, snacks, rice and waters to empower farmers. If you are wondering, wait, aren’t there already a plethora of offerings by various companies in all these segments, the company says its offering is different.
Gopal Krishna Kulkarni, CEO of Ella Foods, explains, “We have been driven by the philosophy that science and culture can go hand in hand to provide a taste of traditional flavors with a wholesome approach to health.”
What this means is that Ella Foods’ range of products incorporate pre and probiotics, are cryogenically manufactured using cold-pasteurization in pharma standard clean rooms and use vegetarian vitamin D with low-sodium techniques to set themselves apart in the marketplace.
Take for instance, Ella pickles. Traditional pickles are loaded with high sodium, as it acts as a natural preservative. Ella Foods uses patented sodium derived from plants, which it says has 50 percent lower sodium content, without affecting taste. Also, these pickles are marinated in heart-healthy cold pressed sesame oil, which is better for blood pressure patients who have a yen for pickles.
Similarly, the Ellas’ upma has heat resistant live probiotics with omega 3 and low sodium, thus not only satiating the consumer, but also improving their gut bacteria. While conventional spices are machine-ground which generates not only heat but also ensures that spices lose some of their properties, because the essential oils present in them evaporate, the Ellas have taken a different route.
Ella Foods manufactures its spices using cryogenics and cold-pasteurization. “The freeze grinding technology we use ensures the preservation of antioxidants, essential and volatile oils, thus ensuring twice the aroma, flavor and taste compared to conventionally manufactured ones. We use sterilization for microbial free purity in spices, seasoning and snacks, ”says Kulkarni.
Amongst its offerings are chilli powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, pepper powder, sambar, rasam, garam masala, sugar-free turmeric latte mix with vanilla, all of them cryogenically manufactured and microbial free spice powders. In its seasoning portfolio, it has flavors like chipotle, caribbean, mexican fajita, peri-peri, sweet and spicy BBQ, chermoula and cajun.
Instant probiotic upma with vegetarian vitamin D, omega 3, prebiotic and low in sodium apart from instant tangy millet poha and mint millet upma are the ‘heat and eat’ offerings.
Its microbial-free herbs collection includes parsley, cilantro, oregano, sage, thyme, chives and dill.
In the snacks category, it offers low sodium single-serves of peri-peri almonds, chilli lime cashews, coconut toasted almonds, plain salted almonds and cashews. Its pickle range includes garlic, ginger, mango, lemon and gongura.
Ella Foods also offers beverages like probiotic hot chocolate with Ashwagandha and probiotic turmeric latte. It also sells unpolished rice varieties of sona masoori, red rice, black rice, all sourced locally.
Kulkarni says, soon Ella Foods will start selling waters, such as ‘curcumin water, vitamin D3 water, herbal waters with flavors such as mint, root and vetiver.’ To ensure better reach, it has decided to follow an omni-channel approach.
It sells through its website, distributes through modern trade, supermarkets and premium stand-alone stores. It is also present on Amazon in India, the US and Europe and intends to market on all other major online portals. All of its manufacturing is done in-house at a plant in Malur located 45 kilometers from Bengaluru.
Ella Foods is working with institutions such as hospitals, airlines, corporations and HORECA (Hotels, Restaurants and Catering) with bulk exportsbeing planned toMiddle East, North America and Africa. While prices are at a slight premium to competitors, Kulkarni is confident that the superior quality will convince customers of the value they are getting.
However, the CEO of Bengaluru- headquartered competitor – who are leading players in segments such as spice powders and pickles, but who did not want to be identified – said, “They are at the premium end of the market and we have not seen much of them in the marketplace. Given their pedigree though, we will watch their moves closely. ”
Until recently their limited presence in the market could be explained mainly due to the fact that most of the Ellas’ focus was understandably on the pharma business. Now, the foods business is taking center stage as Jalachari Ella looks to scale it to the next level. “After an experience of 25 years in the field of biotechnology and life sciences, we were finally able to delve into our agrarian roots to bring forth this passion project of Ella Foods.We firmly believe that the processing and handling of food is to be treated with the same precision as that of a drug, ”she says. Whether it’s pharma or food ‘our aim is to ensure that our products add to the wellness of the nation, ”ayssays Jalachari. The market and competitors are watching.
April 10, 2022