Milma: Maintaining the Sustainability, Accessibility, Affordability, and Economic Equilibrium of Kerala’s Dairy Farming with End-Consumer-Focus


In India’s agriculture and allied sectors, dairy farming has been a revolutionary niche, thanks to the father of the white revolution in India, Dr Verghese Kurien. Situated in his home state, Kerala, is the brand Milma of Kerala Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (KCMMF).

Today, Milma has emerged as one of India’s Fastest Growing Agriculture Companies in 2024. To answer the questions of how and why, we have Milma’s Chairman, Shri KS Mani, with us, who has kind-heartedly agreed to answer all our questions.

Sir, Welcome to CIOLook India! First of all, congratulations on running such a huge organization successfully for so many decades. Now, let us begin with the questions.

As a trailblazer in the agriculture industry, could you take us back to the beginning of your journey? What motivated you to step into this dynamic field?

Before taking over as Chairman of the Kerala Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (KCMMF), known by its brand name Milma, I had three decades of experience in the cooperative sector, having been the Chairman of the Malabar Regional Cooperative Milk Producers Union (Malabar Milma).

I forayed into entrepreneurship at 23 by starting my venture, Atlas Machine Tools. Later, I also founded the Malabar Engineering Company Pvt Ltd.

When I met Dr Verghese Kurien in a Rotary Seminar at Good Shepherd School in Ooty in 1989, I became interested in dairy farming and ventured into the dairy sector. With my experience in dairy farming, I could relate to the hardships and needs of farmers, which helped me very much during my tenure as President of the Ennapadam Milk Cooperative Society in Palakkad, my home district. I subsequently became the Chairman of the Malabar Union of Milma.

Now, as the Chairman of Milma, my deep understanding of the market, derived from over thirty years in the dairy sector, has immensely helped me successfully launch a varied bouquet of value-added products. My colleagues at the Federation and in the three Regional Unions have played a key role in this endeavour.

I was recently re-elected to the Board of Directors of the National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India (NCDFI) for the second consecutive term.

As you know, the NCDFI board comprises the federal dairy cooperatives of states and Union Territories. The primary objective of NCDFI is to facilitate the workings of dairy cooperatives through coordination, networking, and advocacy. Dr Verghese Kurien, the father of India’s White Revolution, was its founder-chairman.

This representation enables me, and others on it, to persuasively address a host of issues concerning state milk cooperative federations that need to be addressed in a cooperative spirit. I have already done this by raising vital issues at NCDFI and similar national bodies.

With all humility, my advocacy of issues has found an encouraging resonance among all state unions. After all, state output enables the country to achieve the national goals in this vital sector, which is tied to the lives of millions of people.

Milma has emerged as one of India’s most promising agriculture companies. Could you share the guiding philosophy that has propelled your organization’s success?

KCMMF, or the apex Federation, is a three-tiered organization. The three regional unions are Thiruvananthapuram Regional Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union (TRCMPU), Ernakulam Regional Cooperative Milk Producers Union (ERCMPU), and Malabar Regional Cooperative Milk Producers Union (MRCMPU). All three unions together have close to 11 lakh dairy farmers. They are grouped under around 3300 primary Milk Cooperative Societies affiliated with three regional unions.

The success of KCMMF (Milma) is mainly due to its unwavering commitment to the goal of the socio-economic progress of dairy farmers through the production, procurement, processing, quality control and marketing of milk and various other value-added products. Our mission is farmers’ prosperity through consumer satisfaction. Through this, we can do welfare measures for them and their cattle.

As Milma, we have always prioritized the quality of our various products. This has helped us win and retain customer trust, a strong pillar of Milma’s roaring success over the decades.

This unwavering commitment to our customers inspired us to initiate an ambitious brand repositioning exercise last year. This ‘Repositioning Milma – 2023’ initiative marked a paradigm shift impacting the entire verticals of Milma.

This was a decisive and strategic step after hours of brainstorming and meticulous planning. We sought and received support and feedback from experts from the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), whose financial and technical support encouraged us to proceed with the ‘Repositioning Milma’ initiative.

The repositioning has strengthened Milma’s market presence and visibility, providing a distinct and uniform identity for our products that our customers can easily relate to. The key aims of the repositioning exercise were to standardize the quality, price, and packaging of various Milma products put out by its three regional unions.

As part of the ‘Repositioning Milma—2023’ initiative, we re-launched our flagship products, such as milk, curd, ghee, and flavoured milk, on April 18, 2023. Hopefully, we will complete the repositioning exercise in the next six months.

As part of ‘Repositioning Milma,’ we are also developing new products to meet consumers’ needs.

I will give how effective an upfront initiative this has been with a couple of examples.

We launched the dark chocolates and Milk Chocolates under the name Deliza.  We are the second milk federation in India to launch dark chocolates. These were instant hit with the younger generation and have enabled the brand to reach out to a new community of consumers. Also, we have entered the biscuit category and recently launched the Osmania brand of butter biscuits and butter drops.

We also launched the ‘Milma Instant Pulissery mix’. Pulissery is one of Kerala’s traditional curries, along with dhal and sambar, and it goes with the typical Malayali lunch. Milma pullisery mix comes in powdered form in an attractive pack and adheres to Milma’s high-quality standards. This has been an instant success with our customers and has gone on to become quite popular with new consumers.

With the fast pace of life today, most families battle to balance work and personal responsibilities within the limited time at their disposal. Taking care of the dietary needs of their children and elders who depend on them while carrying out professional duties has become a new normal. So, it would be a great boon for such families if safe and healthy food products that can be easily turned into delectable dishes were made available.

In the coming year, we will soon be hitting the market with more ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat customer-centric products, bringing a wholesome plate to families with a wide choice of delicious and healthy food items, apart from our staple liquid milk in its various choices.

Unveiling such products is not easy. A lot of research, planning and procedures are involved. Regulatory standards need to be strictly adhered to. Milma has a great reputation for quality.

We have strong management and a very efficient production and marketing team capable of taking up these responsibilities and delivering. Ultimately, Milma will have a product showcase that has universal appeal among all classes of consumers.

The agriculture landscape is continually evolving. How do you ensure that Milma remains adaptable and ahead of industry trends, providing innovative solutions to your clients?

Of course, the agriculture landscape is faced with grim challenges in India and elsewhere. The impact of climate change is a big issue. Global warming is on our doorstep as well, with the current summer being unusually searing. The immediate impact is felt on agriculture in general and the dairy sector in particular. We have to evolve strategies to mitigate the adverse consequences, and we have already started doing this.

Summer is always a testing time for the dairy industry. There is a sharp decline in yield. Also, green fodder will virtually disappear. This is a kind of double whammy that impacts the farmer’s livelihood and income.

We have introduced an insurance cover to make up for the summer loss. Thousands of farmers across the state have benefited from this scheme. Over the years, this benefit has only offset losses due to natural calamities like floods. Also, all three regional unions of Milma have periodically increased the milk procurement price from farmers without taxing the customers.

Moreover, all three regional unions have subsidized round-the-year cattle feed for farmers. This is despite the rise in input costs faced by our dairy plants. Farmers are also provided hay, green fodder and silage at subsidized rates. Several new projects for livestock health and the introduction of high-yielding brands have been launched. We have also come out with financial support like interest-free credit for buying livestock, which would help farmers and attract youth to the dairy sector.

Your leadership style is often recognized as a driving force behind Milma’s achievements. Could you explain your approach to leadership and team building within the organization?

As Milma Chairman, my primary focus has been to work towards closer cooperation between our three Regional Unions, ensure that the management and our extremely dedicated workforce remain committed to our goals, and work unitedly for our dairy farmers and our customers. Moreover, our team works with the spirit of cooperative federalism that the Indian dairy sector has nurtured since the White Revolution.

The brand Milma has a pre-eminent position in the lives of Keralites. Milma has always given priority to the welfare of dairy farmers. We always ensure that most of our revenue goes to the farmer and only a slim portion proceeds for establishment expenses.

Since taking over as Milma Chairman, I have focused mainly on product diversification and expansion of our marketing network as part of the rebranding exercise to meet the demands of the day while steadfastly keeping the welfare of our member societies and through them, the dairy farmers, close to our hearts.

My approach is to protect the interests of dairy farmers and ensure the seamless supply of quality products to customers. I believe in participatory leadership and consultative decision-making and that our steadfast commitment to quality will win us endless customer loyalty.

The essence of agriculture lies in innovations and enhancing the end-user experience. How does Milma strike a balance between operational efficiency and customer satisfaction?

The basic factors for the growth of the dairy sector in Kerala are the steadfast efforts of the government and Milma in assuring a stable price for farmers and making liquid milk and dairy products available at affordable prices to consumers. This is a very challenging proposition to balance, as we need to take care of both of our primary communities—the dairy farmers and our consumers.

Today, Milma has dairy plants across Kerala, which procures around 13 lakh litres on a daily basis from our societies. With sales reaching close to 16 lakh litres daily, Milma also sources milk from outside the state federations to meet customer demands.

In addition, Milma has four dairy product plants, which produce all of its value-added products. We will soon commission our exclusive milk powder plant in Moorkanad in the Malappuram district.

It is vital for us to maintain a healthy rapport with consumers by constantly evaluating their satisfaction levels, understanding their aspirations, and keeping up with our operational efficiency and the quality of our dairy products on par with the global standard. Milma is committed to enhancing its infrastructure, building capacity, and thus ensuring that it meets the aspirations and expectations of its consumers.

How does Milma integrate Sustainability and environmental responsibility principles into its operations and contribute to a sustainable experience?

Sustainability is critical for us, as is for any other segment of the society. We are conscious of conserving the dairy sector by following eco-friendly norms. So, we have efficiently adopted these norms to maintain sustainability through environment-friendly operational methods.

In the realm of agriculture, technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing efficiency. How does Milma leverage technology to optimize its services and stay ahead in a digital age?

A Technology-enabled and farmer-centric ecosystem will enable the Indian dairy sector to scale greater heights. The proposed digitization of livestock by the National Digital Livestock Mission (NDLM)will help with effective tracking, disease surveillance, and information dissemination. This could be implemented easily in a state like Kerala, as it has made good progress in tagging its livestock.

Kerala’s well-established network of veterinary medical facilities and its educational and skill development resources in the animal sciences domain are all facets of an ecosystem that is highly conducive to dairying. Adopting newer technology and remaining ahead in the race for digital transformation will keep Milma and its dairy farmers in good stead.

The workforce is the cornerstone of any successful organization. How does Milma foster a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among its employees?

Milma’s fundamental obligation is to meet the milk consumption needs of the consumers in Kerala. We have charted out strategies to counter threats and unexpected challenges by sticking to the spirit of cooperative federalism. The collective efforts and skills of employees have immensely contributed to the growth of Milma. We have a skilled and efficient marketing and sales team divided into two, with one team designated for milk marketing while the other focuses on value-added products.

We also recently changed our distribution strategy for our value-added products. To strengthen our distribution network, we have appointed Super Stockists across Kerala. Brand building exercise is another activity in tune with the ‘Repositioning Milma’ strategy. On the lines of corporate-level marketing activities, extensive marketing, advertising, and awareness campaigns are being conducted among the public.

The board of directors of the Federation and Regional Unions, our management, dairy farmers, Milma employees, distributors, and distribution vehicle employees have significantly contributed to the brand’s amazing market performance.

As a leader in India’s agriculture sector, your company has likely faced its share of challenges. Could you share an instance where your team’s resilience and ingenuity triumphed over adversity?

In the face of adversities, Milma was able to procure sufficient milk from other states to make up the shortfall in domestic procurement. MILMA has been instrumental in achieving the state’s national goal of self-sufficiency in milk production.

We successfully overcame the tendency of some state milk marketing federations to aggressively enter markets outside their respective states. The resilience of our employees and Milma’s credibility helped us defeat attempts to market liquid milk cross-border.

Also, during COVID-19, we efficiently utilized the alternative of converting our surplus milk into milk powder, thereby avoiding milk spoilage. We also ensured that our consumers didn’t go without their staple of quality milk, which was delivered to consumer doorsteps with utmost safety.

The prevalence of lumpy-skin disease among cows, issues such as climate change, and the steep rise in the production cost of milk have impacted milk production. However, we have been able to overcome such adverse factors with the joint efforts of the state government, its various departments, and the local administration bodies, in addition to the dairy farmers.

What are the benefits and supports extended by Milma to ensure the sustainability of dairy farmers over the years?

Over the years, all three regional unions have extended various benefits and succour to farmers for their sustenance and welfare. Their welfare measures include medical aid, insurance schemes and financial aid for constructing houses.

As per the Dairy Karunya Hastha project of MRCMPU, launched in 2022, a maximum of ₹500 per month will be given to children under 18 of farmers afflicted with type 1 diabetes to meet their insulin charge and consultation fee.

ERCMPU has disbursed ₹147.50 lakh financial aid to 986 farmers for the death of cattle that were not insured. As per the Cattle Insurance Premium Subsidy Project, 717 farmers have been given ₹3.68 lakh in 2023-24. As per the Pratheeksha project, TRCMPU has set up artificial insemination centres in 19 cooperatives. In the 2023-24 financial year, around ₹63.72 lahks was spent distributing 3000 rubber mats to farmers at a 50% subsidy under the Cow Comfort Mats project.

Manufacturing Ethno-Veterinary Medicines (EVM) in collaboration with the Kerala Ayurvedic Cooperative Society is another major project of Milma. This project aims to provide farmers with cost-effective medicines and improve milk quality. Decentralized veterinary units also function in areas with limited access to veterinary services.

The cost-effective Artificial Insemination (AI) centres ensure timely service to farmers’ cattle. Besides, the Disease Control Alternate Method Project (DCAM Project) of NDDB, which aims to create awareness among farmers about mastitis control measures, CMT test, subclinical mastitis, antibiotic waste, and EVM, was implemented. Other benefits include subsidies for cattle sheds, biogas, fodder support project, and maize fodder distribution.

Other support to farmers includes a cattle feed subsidy, a cub adoption project, a revolving fund, aid for cattle shed renovation, a cattle insurance subsidy, and a post-death relief fund. The Haritham-Silage subsidy scheme ensures the availability of silage at the subsidy rate throughout the year.

Looking to the future, what is your vision for your company? How do you aspire to continue making a significant impact on India’s agriculture landscape?

Kerala is the home state of Dr Verghese Kurien, the celebrated “Milkman of India.” His ideas, ideals, and dedication have always inspired us. Milma’s vision is to constantly strive to provide its valued consumers with the highest quality milk, milk products, and other products and the best service rendered by our passionate and focused workforce.

Though the input cost in the dairy sector in Kerala is much higher compared to other states, Milma passes on 83 per cent of milk value to dairy farmers through the cooperative societies in its network. Also, the bulk of Milma’s surplus is given to the farmers as an additional incentive for milk price and a subsidy on cattle feed, as the well-being of the dairy farmers is its prime concern. All this while ensuring that our customers are spared the pain of steep price rises in the cost of their daily milk.

We can leverage cutting-edge, emerging technologies to ensure sustained growth in the sector. We have ensured that our dairy farmers are given the best price in the country for the milk they procure. With the immaculate welfare activities envisaged for the farmers, we can address farmer needs, make dairying an economically sustainable and viable occupation, and attract more youngsters and women folks into dairying, thus bringing about a holistic change in the agricultural landscape.