MSME SuperPower:

How an IT professional discovered sweet success in rural India

Ankit Sharma

Owner, Future Farmers LLP, Narsinghpur, Madhya Pradesh

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Not many know that a part of Madhya Pradesh’s status as an agricultural powerhouse comes from its rich black alluvial soil, which has been especially crucial to the state’s thriving sugar sector.

The state’s largely rural Narsinghpur district – known as its sugar bowl – produces as much as 65 percent of its sugarcane. Farmers here are keen on the production of jaggery, a major sugarcane product that is globally famed for being nutritionally superior to sugar. But sugar outsells jaggery simply because it is made using outdated processes that hurt its market reputation.

And this is what Ankit Sharma discovered, firsthand, after spending many weeks in the agrarian district, after being asked to consult on a local project. It was here that he realised that a sweet startup opportunity lay in the jaggery sector. His local research helped him crystallise three clear business objectives that would soon set his brand of jaggery apart: make the process of making jaggery hygienic; ensure that jaggery retains its nutritional value; and ensure that his product resonates with the modern audience.

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Changing techniques

Starting up his agri-venture, Future Farmers LLP, he immediately set upon changing the unhygienic method of jaggery production. Placing automation and machine integration across the supply chain, Ankit has ensured that his brand of Jaggery – Gladden – is never touched by human hands.

This is quite an accomplishment when we consider that jaggery plant workers have remained loyal to time-tested techniques. But he helped his staff unlearn them, and instead adopt hygiene basics like masks, gloves and hair caps to preserve not only Gladden’s purity but also their own health; jaggery is rendered by boiling sugarcane juice to a skin-scorching 120℃.

Describing his nuanced understanding of jaggery production, Ankit says, “First I am a farmer, second, a manufacturer, and third, a brand owner.”

Going retail

Ankit had to learn more than just farming. Only armed with an IT degree, he had to acquire competence in retail, marketing and more from scratch. This is where the Walmart Vriddhi program has played an enabling role. Talking about his learnings from the program, Ankit says, “The program… helped me a lot to understand MSMEs and government schemes for MSMEs. As I had no experience in retail, the team at Walmart Vriddhi was quite supportive and gave me guidance at every step of the way. They helped me with marketing, planning, product packaging and deciding business strategies. They helped put it all down on paper, which was a relatively difficult task for me. They also helped me with registering my firm under MSME and in creating my UDYOG Aadhar.”

Today, as much as 60 per cent of Gladden is exported in bulk to Middle East countries. In India, Gladden is primarily sold in the domestic market through 300 to 500 neighbourhood kirana stores in Bhopal. There’s a small but significant share of online sales done through eCommerce platforms like Flipkart.

Now Ankit has diversified quickly, manufacturing not only jaggery and jaggery products, but also crockery, paper plates, manure, and more from sugarcane roughage.  The company’s brand portfolio includes traditional jaggery, as well as unique variants – including candies and jaggery powder – which have differentiated Gladden to a modern audience. In parallel, Future Farms LLP has entered the service sector, and is setting up new farms, developing food farms, working in soil nourishment, and helping farmers with documentation work.

Talking about his experience with Flipkart, he says, “My onboarding journey on Flipkart was smooth and convenient. The platform has a flexible model, and I can leverage its delivery channel to cater to pan-India consumers.”

Not content with how much he has achieved in such a short span of time, Ankit has an even loftier goal.

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