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Idli dosa batter goes popular as eating out becomes rare during the pandemic

The pandemic has spurred consumer demand for the idli and dosa batter that ranks high on convenience and hygiene

How many idlis can you make with one lakh kilograms of batter? At the world’s largest idli and dosa batter preparation and packaging plant they are busy to do the math, given the soaring demand. For the record it is approximately 20 lakh idlis. Built by Bengaluru-based iD Fresh Food, the fully automated Giant Home Kitchen was inaugurated on World Idli Day, March 31, in Anekal, Karnataka. With more people staying at home, as a result of the global pandemic, idli and dosa batter is in high demand, leading to a surge in new start ups, as existing companies bolster their capabilities.

“Market research shows that the pandemic has spurred consumer demand for fresh and healthy foods like the idli and dosa, and for the batter,” says Musthafa P C, co-founder and CEO, iD Fresh Food. He adds, “There has been a perceptible cultural shift in the home cooking trend in India and an increasing number of people are consciously exploring ways of preparing easy-to-cook food at home.”

Idli dosa batter goes popular as eating out becomes rare during the pandemic

Last year, the company sold 35 crores idlis. This spike was seen not just in India but also overseas. California-based Mani Krishnan, CEO, Shastha Foods who hails from Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, says he had to quickly equip his kitchens so they could meet the rising demand last year. Krishnan, who founded the company at San Jose in 2003 today supplies to 300 stores across California.

“With the shut down, WFH and schools being closed, there was a massive surge in home cooking. The demand for dosa batter skyrocketed 100% across the country,” he says. Krishnan adds that he also realised there was a need to provide variety at comfortable price points and hence introduced variants of millet and organic batters like brown rice, oats, quinoa, mixed pulses and green gram.

Trial and error

“The variants got better visibility and people were willing to try and taste them. It now forms a significant growth opportunity,” he adds. There has also been an explosion of dosa-inspired talent across cloud kitchens. Krishnan cites the example of Once Upon A Dosa, which was born, in August 2020, during the pandemic in Bay Area, California. It offers gluten-free waffle made with dosa batter and adapts it to Mexican, American and Japanese accompaniments, like a Szechuan paneer topping.

Idli dosa batter goes popular as eating out becomes rare during the pandemic

Suvai Bhavan in Chennai with five cloud kitchens too introduced the millet dosa during the pandemic and offers an interesting range of premixes like rava, ragi and rava kesari. They also have pesarattu batter and masala, medhu and keerai vada mix.

Another spin-off of the pandemic has been the sprouting of a batter-making cottage industry. With people stuck at home and time on hand, many are retailing home-made batter at attractive rates and even organising home-delivery options.

Idli dosa batter goes popular as eating out becomes rare during the pandemic

With the demand from “apartments” close to her home increasing last year, Kavitha Mohan in Coimbatore grew confident enough to mechanise and upscale the business she ran from her kitchen. “I use to provide batter locally to friends but, as demand soared, I found myself making 50 kgs of batter daily,” she says. Last year during the pandemic, she began retailing on a small scale and finally went commercial with her brand Thrupth in February 2021. Kavitha has added appam and adai to her product list. She plans to add chutney packets.

“There is a demand for specials like appam and adai batters; the going is good,” says Kavitha who is retailing a minimum of 70 to 100, one kilogram packets a day.

Men and women behind the batter

Anpumathi JJ who began JJ Foods in 2005 with a three-litre home grinder, and upscaled to three five-litre grinders the next year, said she was busy right through the lockdown.“We did not close even for a single day. I had to provide people with their daily staple.” Anpumathi now has a mechanised dosa batter facility at her home with an all-woman staff of five. In April 2020, her production was around 300 litres a day, but is now increased to 600 litres. Her team — Shobha, Jyothi, Chitra, Supriya and Geetha — made it to the unit during the lockdown too, says Anpumathi, as she extols their efficiency in making 100 packs in half hour. Anpumathi’s recipe is a mix of rice and urad dal in a 1: 4 ratio with salt and water.

Amal Muraleedharan, who set up his business two years ago along with his mother Akhila in Kochi, has seen production increase from 300 packets to 700 a day during the health crisis. “As we had surplus stock of rice and dal for three months, we could meet the increased demand, when others were unable to carry on,” says Amal whose biggest buyers are small corner shops.

For Kochi-based Swamy Food Products, sales dropped by 50% when its supply chain broke down in the initial days of the crisis in April, last year. “But things have picked up; we are almost back to 80% of the business,” says Shankar M Iyer, the founder who has been in the business for the past 15 years. He feels that the cottage industry that has mushroomed during the pandemic will need to match as consistency, quality, pricing, FSSAI license and GST registration to be in business

Encashing on a 300-year-old idli recipe, Kochi-based food start up Farmtodine built up a steady market by supplying supermarkets and luxury hotels. The restrictions of the pandemic affected them during the lockdown and a few months after, but they soon regained lost ground and began to supply 1,000 litres a day as before.

Soni P Mani, managing director and CEO, is looking forward to introducing an exclusive idli mix “that fulfills the four essential criteria — colour, texture, mastication, and stickiness — of an idli,” he says. Visalam Nagarjan the woman behind the batter says the recipe belongs to her Changanaserry-based family. “For five generations we lived in Alappuzha but there was a Tamil Nadu and an Andhra connect in the older generations, which is how we got this particular recipe,” she says.

Visalam speaks of a rice which she can identify, and of a supplier who informs them of its harvest details. “The difference is in the ari or rice,” says Visalam explaining that the taste and texture of the batter depends on the moisture content, soaking time and the grinding of the rice. “I have been making batter for home consumption for 35 years now and it’s only recently that we went commercial. ,” she says.

It is idli-dosa all day long in her household. “Idlis for breakfast, idlis for lunch and idlis for dinner,” she says.

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