Anousha Zahid: Covid-19 and the consequent lockdown have impacted almost every business. How did it affect Hobnob?
Mariam Akberali: No one has been through such unprecedented times. We are still in the thick of it and like everyone else it has been a difficult phase for us. Nevertheless, we used this time as an opportunity to restructure in preparation for a new normal and improve our systems. The safety of our customers is one of our highest priorities and we have ensured that safety protocols are in place, whereby our staff is required to wear gloves and masks, temperatures are regularly taken and sanitizers are available. One of the big challengers was to figure out how much we could sell on a given day in an environment of tremendous uncertainty and with opening hours drastically reduced.
As a large number of our products have a one-day shelf life (they are baked fresh daily), we faced a hike in returns from our outlets and therefore wastage. It was difficult to figure out what to order for the next day and in what quantities. Pricing too was a challenge, as our goal is to make products that are high-quality but affordable. Given that the price of a lot of ingredients skyrocketed, we had to be very creative with product development to ensure taste and quality. In the thick of the pandemic, fewer people were leaving home to shop and those who did were mostly buying staples such as bread or products essential for them. Furthermore, as large get togethers declined, there were fewer occasions to celebrate with cake and food and this too impacted our sales.
AZ: When did you acquire Hobnob?
MA: Late 2017, so almost three years ago.
AZ: What changes did you introduce and why did you opt to retain the brand name?
MA: Since acquiring Hobnob, we have changed pretty much everything to do with the business. We retained the name because it had nostalgic appeal. We all remember Hobnob from the 90s and we all loved it. I am proud of the brand because I had the opportunity to work with the previous owner who is an amazing person. Hence, there is an emotional relationship with Hobnob. When we acquired Hobnob, we realised that to survive in a saturated market, we had to innovate and be very consistent with our products. We undertook a complete revamp of the entire product range. This included revising the packaging as well as opting for a new brand colour – green (family favourite).
Since Hobnob already had a place in the hearts of Karachiites, we highlighted the brand story in our packaging to show how the brand evolved over 20 years. As for our products, with the exception of a handful, we either changed or improved our product line. Our brownies and cupcakes are doing really well and we recently launched a three milk cupcake - a smaller bite of the larger cake and this has been very well received. Our cake range now features a variety of premium flavours. We have also launched a range of desserts as an alternative to customers looking for something other than cakes for a dinner party - such as trifle or a mousse. We also offer a wide range of savouries, sandwiches and meals to go; something to suit everyone’s taste. We recently introduced ‘Grab and Go’ meals for people looking for a quick, wholesome meal on the go; they include noodles, rice and curry and salads. In terms of the retail experience, we revamped our stores; they are more spacious and many outlets offer ‘live-baking’, whereby baked goods are prepared fresh in-store in front of our customers so they get the freshest possible product.
AZ: Who are your target customers?
MA: We have something for everybody and our target consumers are people looking to pick up quality products ranging from basic bakery items to fancier items like cakes and desserts to convenient meals on the go and all at affordable prices.
AZ: How many outlets are there across Karachi?
MA: Eighteen, and our latest just opened in Garden East.
AZ: To what extent do you think the pandemic has changed customer behaviour?
MA: During the lockdown, our focus was on making our online delivery service more efficient, so that customers could enjoy our products from the comfort and safety of their homes. Digital was the go-to medium during the lockdown and will continue to be so and our marketing strategy currently is digitally based. We have assiduously worked on making our website more user-friendly and we will soon have an online payment system in place. We are working on re-launching our Instagram account; social media platforms are a very important tool to communicate directly with customers and help us understand the kind of products they want. However, not all our customers are digital savvy, so it is imperative that our products speak for themselves and we have to ensure that the quality remains consistent in order to retain brand loyalty.
AZ: Where do you see Hobnob in five years?
MA: We are excited about the next few years; we have a lot of great ideas in the pipeline and we are looking forward to turning Hobnob into everyone’s favourite neighbourhood bakery.
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