Indian start-up targets global snacks with high protein, price stable quinoa

Ashtral Biotech claims its quinoa variety has a higher protein content than other white varieties at 15.5 g protein per 100 g

Snack makers should consider sourcing quinoa from India where the exotica strain is sweeter, higher in protein and sells at a stable, lower price, says the managing director of Ashtral Biotech.

The quinoa start-up, headquartered in the southern city of Chennai, has worked with India’s local and federal governments to upscale quinoa production in south India, under a $2bn initiative ‘Project Ananta’. Founded at the beginning of this year, Ashtral Biotech will open two large quinoa processing plants this month and commence shipments when the next quinoa crop is ready in June.

The quinoa strain grown in the southern district of Anantapur, coined ‘quinoa exotica’, can also be found in south Peru. Ashtral Biotech identified it as the only quinoa variety suited to the dry climate and soil conditions of India, following two years of extensive R&D that investigated 20 wild varieties.

Speaking to at Snaxpo 2014 in Dallas, Texas, the company’s managing director Reddy Rebala said snack makers in the United States and Europe should seriously consider sourcing quinoa from India.

“We have successfully managed to grow quinoa on a large scale in the southern plains and surprisingly this particular quinoa is tastier, sweeter and has got a stronger protein profile compared to South American versions,” he said.

Rebala said that a regular white quinoa variety had a protein content of around 13-14 grams per 100 grams but the Indian variety contained 15.5 g per 100 g. “It’s not significantly more, but when you package a product as a snack manufacturer this difference will play a considerably big role.”

“Today, quinoa is considered the star snack ingredient due to its nutritional profile, and when you discuss the nutritional profile of quinoa, the first thing looked at is the protein content,” he said.

Ashtral can supply conventional or organic quinoa grains, flakes and pre-roasted instant flour.

Price guarantee, an appeal in a fluctuating market

Rebala said the Indian quinoa had price appeal over varieties grown in Peru and Bolivia because the government had strict controls on imports and exports. He said that because Ashtral was a stakeholder with the government and the production was part of a wider government initiative, companies would get the quinoa in a planned manner.

“Many of the customers with whom we’ve spoken to say that buying from South America is quite a challenge sometimes because the exporters themselves, despite the best of intentions, are unable to give a commitment on the pricing and supplies because they keep fluctuating,” he said.

Because the Indian quinoa production fell under what Rebala coined a ‘social enterprise program’, the price remained stable and the farmers received a large majority of the money, he said.

Big hopes: Europe and US too much?

Ashtral Biotech had plans to expand into both Europe and the US, Rebala said. Asked if he was concerned about spreading the company too thinly and taking on too much, too soon, he said: “It could be in fact an advantage, because when you build up the scales, you enjoy economies of scale.”

He said there was huge market potential for increased quinoa supply from India.

“They [Peru and Bolivia] have capacity limitations, whereas the global demand for quinoa keeps increasing. Of course there is a huge market potential for quinoa,” he said.

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