Zulfiqar Ansari, Head of Marketing, EBM, talks to Marylou Andrew about Sooper's landmark sales achievement of Rs 11 billion in FY 2013-2014 and the direction the brand will take in the future.
MARYLOU ANDREW: When did you join EBM?
ZULFIQAR ANSARI: I have been at EBM for just under two years. I started at Ufone, spent six years at Unilever Pakistan, working on three categories: hair, personal wash and foods.
I then headed marketing for the dairy foods business at Engro and from there I moved to EBM.
MLA: Where does biscuit penetration stand right now and how much of the market is unbranded?
ZA: The majority of the market is branded, but I still find that the opportunity to convert from unbranded or scratch foods to packaged foods is quite significant; it is very difficult to ascertain the size of the unbranded or the bakery segment or the unpackaged segment in Pakistan because it is so unregulated and widely spread. The branded market is much more buttoned down as far as numbers are concerned.
MLA: Does the potential for biscuits exist in vertical or in horizontal growth?
ZA: Certain categories will always have potential and they include biscuits because they are a meal replacement. This segment will always have organic growth aligned with population growth. We are very well penetrated and I think our Sooper brand leads virtually all qualitative and quantitative measures as far as brand performance is concerned. The tikki pack (five rupees) is extremely well penetrated into virtually every corner of the country. So penetration is well taken care of and it is more a job of consumption. Different brands have a different footprint – so for a lot of brands penetration would still be a key growth driver. However, for the large brands it is consumption and in EBM’s case that would be the case for our top four to five brands.
MLA: Are there challenges to increasing consumption?
ZA: This is a very value conscious market, especially in terms of tikki packs, which constitute a reasonable chunk of the category. We have had instances where if you break coinage [price at six or seven rupees instead of pricing at multiples of five] the numbers start getting affected quite drastically. We have to manage value for consumers. Our industry tries to move together but if you look at the other FMCG categories there have been big changes in prices of individual SKUs, so for us to have held on to five, 10, 15 rupees for the last 10 years is no mean feat. But the issue is with coinage – if you break five, you go to 10 and then you can just remove yourself from the equation. Coinage dictates a lot.
MLA: How did you achieve the Rs 11 billion sales mark for Sooper? What factors were involved?
ZA: Every conversation about the biscuit industry eventually boils down to Sooper, primarily because of the huge size it commands. To pinpoint one reason for its success would be unfair. I think it started with identifying the opportunity for a packaged version of the local palate for a plain sweet bakery biscuit and credit goes to our R&D which has managed to produce that product consistently for the last 10 years. This coupled with very effective communication and media deployment is the blueprint of our success story. What differentiates Sooper from its me-toos (both counterfeits and established brands) is the numbers; none of the other brands are anywhere near Rs 11 billion.
MLA: In what time period was the Rs 11 billion rupee sales mark achieved?
ZA: It’s an annual sales number for FY 2013-14. It includes an innovation we did, which was the launch of Sooper’s Elaichi variant. This is extending the brand franchise to include a localised taste preference for a more premium and evolved palate.
MLA: Just as a point of reference, what is the average sales value for brands in this category?
ZA: The point of comparison would be that we have a just under 45% market share of the biscuit segment and Sooper is half our company. Sooper as a single brand is bigger than the second ranked biscuit company in the category. Therefore, it is bigger than every other company. It is a giant in that very few categories have such a clear leader. That presents its own set of dynamics. Obviously when you have that much penetration and market share, a lot of people are consuming your brand. So the challenge for the brand team is how to capitalise on that success while being careful, because of course you will be the first target for new entrants and most competitors will be eyeing that spot.
MLA: How have you evolved Sooper’s marketing strategy?
ZA: As a leader it is incumbent to evolve. As far as where the brand is in its lifecycle, the idea is to take the Sooper Hai Zindagi platform and to be more engaging and relevant to people. The good thing about Sooper Hai Zindagi is that it is relevant across the board. One of the problems with Sooper is that with its wide scope it is very difficult to hone in on a specific target group and this makes the creative brief very hard. You have to cater to rural, regional, urban and so on, and the second you try to please everyone, you cannot do justice to the brand.
MLA: What is your retail strategy with Sooper?
ZA: On-shelf presence and visibility is important because shelf share usually depicts market share. Ambient advertising is all well and good, but it will only give you traction in large outlets, not small ones where you don’t even enter the shop. The fact that the consumer comes and asks for this brand by name makes a big difference in the small shops. In the larger ones, there is a lot of international competition but it is erratic and unregulated.
MLA: Is EBM likely to launch more variants for Sooper in the future?
ZA: The easiest thing the company could have done in the initial stages of Sooper’s success was to launch more variants. We have to ensure that the brand fundamentals are not affected and that the variant adds to the brand in a meaningful manner. Sooper is a brand built on numbers, so variants have to conform to that ideal of what a variant of Sooper should be. For example, Sooper Elaichi would dwarf most brands in our competition and it is less than a year old. It is a billion rupees plus brand and that is not an easy thing to do. As long as it fulfills the idea of building the brand franchise and of building consumption in terms of people who are not yet in the brand fold, then yes. But it has to be well thought out. I don’t think Sooper deserves fly by night marketing.
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