Aurora Magazine

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Recipes for success

Published in May-Jun 2015

To succeed, masala brands in Pakistan need to understand their category better.

I have to admit, I am a sucker for strategy. Time and time again, we see great creative executions on TV and on other platforms, yet more often than not, the creativity is not backed by a sound strategy, so it is refreshing to see a combination of both. This is precisely why I was excited by the launch of a masala range by Zauq TV.

The integration of two such businesses can give a hard time to established players. The same brands which have been advertising on ARY Zauq will have an inherent disadvantage against Zauq Masalas, as the channel is likely to give their brand better placement. If audiences for Zauq TV are high, a significant chunk of masala consumers may potentially convert to the newly launched brand.

Granted that some people will quote Peter Thomson’s famous “Execution eats strategy for breakfast,” nevertheless Zauq’s move has the potential to be a success story. The question is whether other masala brands are following a progressive strategy. If they are, they are in sync with changing times, if not, are they then counting on a natural shift by consumers away from unbranded masalas?

Marketers in Pakistan may have seen the ‘My name is Ranvir Ching’ campaign for Indian masala brand Ching’s Secret (a brand of Capital Foods India) launched in 1996. Until last year, Ching’s Secret was a niche brand struggling to become mainstream.

“God was running this business for five years,” Ajay Gupta, MD, Capital Foods said in 2000 when he took charge of the business. Today, the company, which began with INR 250 million has reached INR 1.6 billion and is giving a hard time to Maggi and Knorr despite only being present in six states of India.

Apart from fixing operational fundamentals, Ching’s Secret repositioned itself to a younger audience who wanted to have fun while preparing and eating food. They began with campaigns like ‘10 rupay mein husband’ (a husband in 10 rupees), Chindia, ‘Ching is King’ and then ‘My name is Ranvir Ching’ which redefined the masala and noodle market in India. Instead of a regular TV spot, Ching’s Secret got a song penned by none other than poet, lyricist and film director, Gulzar, which was then performed by Ranveer Singh. The campaign was released on social media and radio as a song. Integrating the product in the song was done with subtlety, yet it left a high brand recall. The end result was quantifiable; 30% growth in the quarter following the release of the campaign.

The masala category in Pakistan is not entirely different from other commodity based industries. Packaged milk, oil, tea and masalas all share similar dynamics. Pakistan is one of the top five masala producers in the world after India, Bangladesh, Turkey and China. Pakistan also has a strong export network to Europe and the Middle East. According to statistics provided by SMEDA in 2010, about two-thirds of this Rs 25 billion category is unbranded and the remaining third is shared by National Foods and Shan Foods. National (45% market share) and Shan (38% market share) compete neck and neck for market leadership, followed by smaller brands such as Chef’s Pride, Mehran, Ronaq and now Zauq, all of which account for less than 20% share of market.

In November 2012, DAWN reported a growth in sales of 29% for National Foods for that year. Even with a conservative 15% year-on-year growth between 2010 and 2020, the category is set to touch Rs 100 billion in 2020 as shown in the chart below and a 10% market share target for a new player could make it a Rs 10 billion company. This makes it a worthwhile business to enter.

For any category dominated by the unbranded segment, growth is faster, although not necessarily easier. The branded segment in the fast masala category can gain share from unbranded commoditised business by adopting three different strategies; selling more to current consumers, converting consumers from the unbranded segment and increasing penetration/geographical coverage for the branded business. Contrary to the cutthroat nature of the corporate world, the top players can actually achieve growth by focusing on one aspect without adversely impacting the other competitor. For example, National, as the market leader, could focus on converting consumers from the unbranded segment. If they do, their communication strategy would be to highlight the negatives associated with unbranded products. Shan Foods can direct their energies towards increasing consumption and their communication would focus on consumption building; for example dual usage of masalas and new recipes. As a result, National will grow by bringing in new consumers into the category and Shan will grow through increased purchase of their products from their existing consumers.

Industry growth projection based on actual sales of 2010 (Source: SMEDA) and assumed growth based on an estimated growth of 13% to 15% per year.
Industry growth projection based on actual sales of 2010 (Source: SMEDA) and assumed growth based on an estimated growth of 13% to 15% per year.

In fact, progress within the branded masala segment can only be hindered by one factor – the industry itself – like our national cricket team, this industry too has the ability to self-destruct. Before starting work on this article, I formulated a hypothesis which I silently prayed would be proved wrong but unfortunately it did not. The hypothesis was that the target audience defined by both top players would be similar, if not the same. When I gained access to their target audience profile, I discovered them to be 95% alike. Both define their audience as women between 18 and 45 years of age in SEC A to C. Their functional needs include convenience and their emotional needs are appreciation and their family’s health and wellbeing. There are several problems here. For one, the 18 to 45 age range is very broad. There is a generation gap at both ends and with rapidly changing social trends, it is impossible to target both ends with the same message.

They have different perceptions about messages and their media platforms are completely different. On top of that, the emotional and functional needs defined are not category specific, in fact the target profile can apply to 90% of the food brands in Pakistan. Think of a tea, cooking oil, milk or baby food; they all have the same needs. The industry needs to understand consumer segments better in order to bring strategy into their execution.

Imagine a 25-year-old single girl who lives with her parents and doesn’t have to worry about her family’s health, yet needs convenience because of her work routine. Doesn’t she need masalas? Or two 20-year-old sisters competing for their three brothers’ attention. Or a 30-year-old married woman (closer to the target audience defined earlier), who does not need family appreciation but simply loves the taste of masalas. The point is that the category and the times are changing. What worked 20 years ago is not applicable today and what is working today will not be applicable five years from now.

This brings me back to Ching’s Secret’s success. The brand did almost everything I have tried to cover above. They carved their own niche, capitalised on their strengths, redefined their target audience and made the masala category entertaining. I don’t want to see a masala ad going all Tarang on Pakistani audiences – which was not bad to start with but has been overdone to death. What I would like to see is a masala brand coming out of the age old, borderline misogynist marketing premise of ‘women need appreciation from their husbands’ and create a ‘10 rupay mein husband’ of its own. Until then, happy cooking.

Sami Qahar is a Dubai-based Pakistani looking for excuses to write. Aurora gives him a few.