Published in Nov-Dec 2021
MAMUN M. ADIL: Why did the Sabir Group establish Sabroso in 2018?
MUHAMMAD SABIR SALMAN: In 2018, the Sabir Group had several business entities, including poultry farms, feed mills, hatcheries and feeder farms, so logically, the next link on this chain was a processing plant. One of the major reasons we established Sabroso was to ensure the profitability of our overall business; for example, if the price of chickens decreased and our poultry farms suffered a loss, we would remain profitable due to the sales of Sabroso’s products and vice versa. This said, we have focused on making Sabroso a profitable, independent unit and we have seen a rapid growth rate since 2018. We aim to break even by our fifth year.
MMA: What is Sabroso’s market share compared to players such as K&N’s?
MSS: According to recent data shared by Nielsen, Sabroso is now number two in the market; K&N’s remains the market leader.
MMA: To what would you attribute the success of Sabroso to, given that your competitors have been in the market for much longer?
MSS: We have been focusing on advertising since 2018. K&N’s is probably the only competitor that advertises more than we do, whereas Big Bird or Menu have not focused on it. We consistently advertise our products on TV and allot substantial budgets for this purpose. We also advertise on digital and OOH, to build awareness and create top of mind recall. We have sponsored the Pakistan cricket team for the PSL and other national events. Furthermore, our distribution chain is very strong and we have a presence in all the major international and local modern trade stores, as well as kiryanas. We conduct tastings regularly to ensure that consumers can sample our products, and the feedback has been extremely positive.
MMA: How has your product range evolved with time?
MSS: We strive to introduce at least two products in the market every year and at least one of them is a ‘Sabroso exclusive’. For example, we launched chicken pakoras in 2018 – after which two of our competitors followed suit. Similarly, in 2019, we introduced fully cooked tikkas for the health conscious (the product has zero contact with oil and can be microwaved). We launched Chicorn Fries in 2020 (they are coated with popcorn flakes). However, our best-selling products are our nuggets (this is the case for every frozen food brand), followed by Crispy Poppers.
MMA: When did you launch parathas?
MSS: In April 2019 and honestly, the reason behind this was the competition. Three of our competitors had introduced them and we did not want to divert our customers towards them.
MMA: How has Sabroso’s distribution expanded?
MSS: When we launched, the number of freezers where our products were available was less than 500; today that number is at least 5,000. Initially, we had distribution centres [cold storage facilities] in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. Now we have one in Multan as well. In 2018 our products were available in five cities, today we cover almost 100 cities, including smaller ones such as Bahawalpur and Sukkur.
MMA: Who is your target audience?
MSS: We have two categories of consumers. One, retail, which primarily includes housewives, their children and their husbands; two, corporate – restaurants, fast food chains, hotels, colleges and universities. Eighty percent of our sales from retail come from value-added products and 20% from raw chicken; these figures are inverted when it comes to corporate consumers. The reason is because ‘regular’ consumers prefer to buy fresh chicken, which is sometimes cheaper, especially if purchased from roadside slaughterhouses. However, our corporate consumers prefer to buy frozen chicken and we are the market leader in this segment.
MMA: What is your brand positioning?
MSS: We are still trying to position ourselves as ‘the chicken specialists’. However, we need to further work on our brand positioning; so far we have solely focused on brand recall rather than positioning.
MSS: I don’t mind admitting that even after three years, consumers don’t necessarily view us as chicken specialists, which is our USP. This is a major lag in our strategy, because our communications do not centre on this aspect.
MMA: Why has this been the case?
MSS: There was no one able to translate our vision to position ourselves as chicken specialists; we did not have a marketing lead and I could not give enough time to marketing. Perhaps we took this aspect of the business a bit lightly because we figured we were advertising heavily. The fact that we kept changing our creative agencies did not help matters either. However, we now have a five-year marketing plan and the objective is to be consistent and embed ourselves in the minds of our consumers as chicken specialists. We also want to be known as an innovative brand, as, unlike our competitors, we have introduced novelties in the market.
MMA: Wouldn’t you say these are two different USPs?
MSS: We want to emphasise that we are chicken specialists to our corporate customers.
MMA: So the ‘innovative brand’ positioning is directed towards your retail consumers?
MSS: Exactly. It is a two-pronged approach. We have been working on brand awareness, now we are working on the equity.
MMA: What are the major challenges with respect to further growth?
MSS: As our products are frozen, spoilage is a major issue, especially because some retailers, mainly kiryanas, turn off their freezers at night. This results in spoilage and when a consumer buys it, our brand’s equity is tarnished. To counter this, we have a strong filtering system in place to ensure that our products are available only in stores that adhere to best practices with regard to refrigeration and maintenance.
MMA: Are there any other issues related to retailers?
MSS: Sometimes, retailers do not pay us on time and we have to stop supplies. This hurts our brand, because when consumers ask why they cannot find our products, the retailers say that our distribution is not good enough, which is untrue and adversely affects our brand image. Retailers also want higher margins and this is not feasible for us. What compounds this is the fact that our competitors, especially the new ones, offer higher margins. To counter this, we have to make sure that our brand equity is strong enough, so that consumers demand that retailers stock our products, like they do for K&N’s – they have built their equity in such a manner that retailers are forced to stock their products. Our long-term objective is to ensure that consumers demand our products.
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