An abil­ity to touch the con­sumer di­rectly

Talk­ing to Fariyha Sub­hani, CEO, Unilevers Pak­istan

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What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween UPFL and Unilever Pak­istan Lim­ited?

Unilever is a multi­na­tional com­pany, yet Rafhan is very much a lo­cal name. Is it the case that when con­sumers see a Rafhan la­belled prod­uct, they may not nec­es­sar­ily know it is ac­tu­ally a Unilever prod­uct, and does this im­pact sales

Is Rafhan a pre­mium brand?

Rafhan is not a cheap prod­uct, nei­ther is it a very pre­mium prod­uct. How­ever, be­cause there are not many other brands in the cat­e­gory,

Rafhan has a 70 to 80% share in the cus­tards and jel­lies mar­ket.

Knorr noo­dles have proved to be quite the suc­cess strory in the last few years. What has driven this suc­cess?

A few things have worked to­gether. It has helped to un­der­stand the con­sumer and the mar­ket. When there is no mar­ket for a prod­uct, you have to source growth from par­al­lel cat­e­gories, and the im­por­tant thing is to build those con­sumer in­sights into the mix, whether it is the pack­ag­ing or the price. The most im­por­tant as­pect is to con­sis­tently stay on track over time with­out chang­ing the story or the po­si­tion­ing. Fi­nally, there was the strength of our dis­tri­bu­tion net­work and our abil­ity to touch the con­sumer di­rectly.

Is this suc­cess typ­i­cal to Pak­istan, or is it true of other mar­kets?

The cat­e­gory is much more de­vel­oped in South East Asia and the ben­e­fits have be­come cat­e­gory generic, so you will find a lot of mass mar­ket brands en­ter­ing the mar­ket there. In South Asia, noo­dles are a fairly new phe­nom­e­non. In the big­ger mar­kets, like Europe and the UK, they have pot noo­dles and a mil­lion other hot snacks. In Pak­istan, the suc­cess story also comes from the fact that noo­dles are the cheap­est as well as the only hot op­tion which work mid­way be­tween a meal and a snack, as well as be­ing a health­ier op­tion.

Will you be in­tro­duc­ing more vari­ants?

We are ex­plor­ing var­i­ous op­tions, but we are not in a tear­ing hurry to in­no­vate; there is still a big job to be done in fur­ther open­ing up the noo­dle mar­ket here; there is still a huge op­por­tu­nity. We do keep an eye on pos­si­bil­i­ties but we are not in­clined at this stage to in­tro­duce some­thing with a higher price point.

In terms of SEC, how deep is the pen­e­tra­tion of the noo­dle cat­e­gory?

Roughly speak­ing about 60 to 70% of the mar­ket comes from the A seg­ment and de­creases as you go down the SECs. In the ru­ral ar­eas the pen­e­tra­tion is still not that much.

Is price an in­hibit­ing fac­tor in the ru­ral ar­eas?

Not nec­es­sar­ily. Twenty- two to 24 ru­pees is not that much. I don’t think it has to do so much with price as it does with avail­abil­ity and aware­ness, although price can be a fac­tor. Look at the pen­e­tra­tion of mo­bile phones; most house­holds, even in the ru­ral ar­eas, prob­a­bly have more than one mo­bile phone. It re­ally makes you think about what to mar­ket, how to mar­ket and what is rel­e­vant. It is about mak­ing a prod­uct rel­e­vant to the con­sumer and in that sense you are not even com­pet­ing in your cat­e­gory or with ex­tended cat­e­gories, you are com­pet­ing for a share of over­all vol­umes.

Why hasn’t the soup cat­e­gory ben­e­fited from the same suc­cess as noo­dles have?

I think this is be­cause soup is not part of our main meal. In Tur­key, for ex­am­ple, peo­ple open their fast with soup; it is con­sid­ered as a part of the main meal and the Knorr soup busi­ness is huge there. In Pak­istan, at best, soup is con­sumed in win­ter and some­times as a snack, but it is not con­sid­ered food as such.

To what ex­tent have Pak­istani con­sumers changed their food con­sump­tion be­hav­iour in terms of health and con­ve­nience?

It is more of an ur­ban con­scious­ness. Cer­tainly, dig­i­tal and so­cial media have made con­sumers much more aware and brands are work­ing on this. When you deal with a pop­u­la­tion of 200 mil­lion peo­ple, you have to seg­ment them not only ac­cord­ing to their buy­ing habits, but ac­cord­ing to their psy­cho­graph­ics

and an ur­ban-ru­ral dis­tri­bu­tion. Of course not all of them are on the health band­wagon yet, but the time is right to start talk­ing about these things. Take Blue Band. It is for­ti­fied and we have added var­i­ous vi­ta­mins so it pro­vides a rel­a­tively lower op­tion when it comes to sat­u­rated fat.

Are there re­gional vari­a­tions?

Yes ab­so­lutely. Peo­ple in Punjab, Sindh, Balochis­tan, KP, all have dif­fer­ent eat­ing habits; the spice lev­els are dif­fer­ent. And within these re­gional con­fig­u­ra­tions you have to seg­ment by lifestyles and ob­vi­ously the up­per LSMs have more of a pre­mium lifestyle which is also more health con­scious, and yes peo­ple over­all are be­com­ing more health savvy. I be­lieve brands should lead trends; one of the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a brand is to take peo­ple to the next level. It is our con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety.

You men­tioned Blue Band, what hap­pened to the Flora ini­tia­tive?

The house­hold pen­e­tra­tion for pack­aged mar­garine is very, very low, so you re­ally have to fo­cus on build­ing the cat­e­gory. When we in­tro­duced Flora, we were im­port­ing it and added to the rel­a­tively low vol­umes, there were is­sues with the sell-by ex­piry dates and Unilever is a very re­spon­si­ble com­pany. The tim­ing was not right to ed­u­cate con­sumers about two sim­i­lar brands, so we de­cided to fo­cus on Blue Band. The need is to make Blue Band avail­able more widely and this can only be done through ex­tend­ing our chilled chain dis­tri­bu­tion. We are work­ing on mak­ing this good­ness avail­able to more peo­ple.

Against which brand does Blue Band com­pete?

Con­sumers were not buy­ing any­thing in­stead of Blue Bland. Yes, in an in­di­rect way you could say there was con­ver­sion from home made but­ter or cream. In a sense, in Pak­istan Blue Band is a bit like Mar­mite in the UK. It is a new habit; a new kind of spread.

In terms of your com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy, how much of it is global ver­sus lo­cal?

We work with, global teams. Some brands ideas are global and the chal­lenge is to en­gage with our lo­cal con­sumers and make those ideas rel­e­vant to them. For ex­am­ple, Knorr’s global idea is to make meal time more ‘spe­cial’ and the more func­tional brand idea is ‘cook­ing ex­per­tise.’ That Knorr is a cook­ing ex­pert and a brand that will help you en­hance meal times for your fam­ily. In the lo­cal con­text, Knorr adapts these ideas of ‘cook­ing ex­per­tise’ and of ‘mak­ing meal times spe­cial.’

Was the Boriyat bhaghao cam­paign global?

No, Boriyat bhaghao was com­pletely lo­cally crafted; there is no global foot­print on it. Now Unilever is talk­ing about tak­ing it global from Pak­istan! Glob­ally Knorr noo­dles are not that big; in fact Pak­istan was the first mar­ket for Knorr noo­dles in South Asia.

What about the com­mu­ni­ca­tion for Blue Band?

It was de­vel­oped glob­ally, but it is based on a uni­ver­sal truth – child growth. Some brand ideas are based on uni­ver­sal truths and it doesn’t mat­ter where they were orig­i­nally crafted. The work is done in a coun­try or group of coun­tries where brands try to find the uni­ver­sal truth and then the lo­cal rel­e­vance. As far as Blue Band is con­cerned although the idea is global, the ads were shot in In­dia and mostly in Pak­istan. The idea is about growth. Over the last three or four years the idea is ex­pressed as a child’s de­sire to grow up quickly, which is also a uni­ver­sal truth, no mat­ter where you live in the world. But the idea must work; I will not blindly run a com­mu­ni­ca­tion if I feel it will not work. With Knorr cubes we had to lo­calise the com­mu­ni­ca­tion quite a bit. I can’t put beef stroganoff or spaghetti car­bonara on the ta­ble; most peo­ple will not know what these dishes are. So I have to do a daal, for ex­am­ple. If a brand is about chef­man­ship, then we have to iden­tify the main meals and top dishes and then find the in­ter­ven­tions, whether they are flavour en­hancers or ba­sic masalas. Rafhan’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion is all lo­cal. Mag­num, of course, is a very global idea. How­ever, higher LSMs or the higher lifestyle groups tend to think and be­have in a sim­i­lar way across coun­tries. So Mag­num bor­rows from a global con­cept, although there is a lo­cal com­po­nent in terms of the celebri­ties we use.

And Lip­ton Tea?

Un­til two or three years ago we used a lot of their global advertising, but we have started to de­velop a lot of work lo­cally for the brand again.

Did you find it worked bet­ter?

We did; although, some­times the global ap­proach works as well. The beauty of Unilever is that we will test and if a piece of com­mu­ni­ca­tion doesn’t con­nect with the con­sumer we will not run it.

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