Ispaghol (Psyllium Husk), colloquially known as ‘isabghol ki bhoosi’ in the Subcontinent, has long been the remedy of choice to relieve symptoms associated with indigestion and constipation, and according to the Pakistan Economic Survey (2013-14), sales of ispaghol have been registering an annual growth rate of approximately 10 to 15% in the last six years. These figures apply mostly to unbranded ispaghol, as the branded variety is a relatively new concept Pakistan.
Branded ispaghol is dominated by Hashmi Ispaghol (manufactured by the Mohammad Hashim Tajir Surma Company), which was launched in 2007 and which accounts for 35 to 40% of the market share.
Given the significant potential this market represents, Hamdard Laboratories (which first launched branded ispaghol husk almost three decades ago) brought a totally new and innovative ispaghol with guar gum to the market in April 2015.
Munawar Jamal, Associate Director Strategy, Blitz Advertising (the creative and media agency for Hamdard Ispaghol), attributes the growth in this category to “increased consumer awareness about the lesser known benefits of ispaghol.” In his opinion, “as brands bring about increased awareness among consumers of the other health benefits of this product, such as aiding weight loss and lowering blood cholesterol levels, demand for ispaghol as a commodity is increasing.”
“Hamdard Ispaghol is aimed at people who are looking for natural and effective remedies for cholesterol, constipation, weight loss and diabetes issues.”
— Shaharyar Pasha, Senior Brand Manager, Hamdard Laboratories
Carrying the tagline of ‘Pure, Cleaned, Preserved’, the guar gum in Hamdard Ispaghol is a fibre from the seed of the guar plant. According to Pasha, guar gum brings added medicinal properties that help control diarrhoea, blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Furthermore, guar gum helps to dissolve the ispaghol and prevents the formation of a jelly like texture, which has been common complaint among ispaghol consumers.
Hamdard Ispaghol’s launch was restricted to a print campaign, OOH advertising and limited in-store activities, because says Jamal, “we are a new entrant in the field and our objective is to keep the scope of our marketing very targeted. The focus is primarily to encourage product trial at the trade level.”
Although Hamdard Ispaghol’s guar gum product is only available in a 120 gram jar (the ispaghol husk is available in a 25 gram pack), Pasha says that more SKUs will soon come to the market.
Hashmi Ispaghol had not been doing any initiatives to create a unique identity for the brand, and marketing activities were limited to random print campaigns, OOH and sporadic retail activations. However, in June this year, perhaps in response to Hamdard’s innovative new product launch, Hashmi Isphagol undertook for the first time a 360 degree campaign (developed and executed by Benchmark Pakistan) aimed at repositioning the brand.
The most significant threat to the sustained growth of the branded ispaghol category will be the fluctuations in foreign exchange rates, as the raw material is imported.
According to Zeeshan Niaz, Group CEO, Benchmark Pakistan, “in-house research identified a gap for a quality, natural fibre supplement.” He adds that although bhoosi is easily available at any kiryana store, there is no quality standardisation and consumers are often uncertain about how pure and hygienic the product is. As a result, the objectives of the campaign were to reposition the brand as an “organic, premium quality, urban healthcare brand” and promote it as a daily supplement that improves health and fitness for the entire family.
The campaign included celebrity endorsements, with Adnan Siddiqui targeting office executives looking for convenience in consumption and Nadia Hussain, addressing women in their 30s. Furthermore, as Pakistan’s heritage has always been at the core of the brands manufactured by the Mohammad Hashim Tajir Surma company, the tagline, ‘Poora Pakistan raha hai bol, Hashmi Ispaghol’ was coined to project Hashmi Ispaghol as an indigenous brand.
The campaign initially rolled out with an even split between ATL and BTL advertising. However, both the brand and the agency realised that to achieve their objective of repositioning Hashmi Ispaghol as a ‘cool’ brand and maximise market share, they needed to target the young, which are Pakistan’s fastest growing, financially autonomous, health conscious consumer segment. As a result, an extensive digital campaign was executed, which included online advertising and social media activities.
The repositioning campaign was accompanied by the launch of a new four gram sachet SKU. Although the top-tier income groups and the urban middle remain the primary target audience, the company wanted to attract those segments in the smaller cities and rural areas that constitute the majority of Pakistan’s population. The sachet was geared towards making a quality brand available at an affordable price, and within three months, the SKU accounted for the majority of sales (in terms of volume) in the second-tier cities, although the larger SKUs have remained the cash cows in the urban centres.
Looking ahead, both brands are optimistic about their potential for growth, although both Pasha and Niaz agree that the most significant threat to the sustained growth of the branded ispaghol category will be the fluctuations in foreign exchange rates, as the raw material they use to prepare ispaghol is imported. Given that the majority of this market is cost sensitive, the challenge will be to engineer a substantial shift to the branded categories, despite the obvious appeal of the easier-on-the-pocket khulli bhoosi.