NATIONAL FOODS

The journey from a household name to an international brand

By SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Jan 29 - Feb 04, 2001

Abrar Hasan, a Business Management and Industrial Engineering graduate from Purdue University, USA, and with diploma in Textile Technology from Leeds University, UK, joined National Foods Limited in April 1993. As Deputy Managing Director, since the last two and half years, Abrar has been responsible for the turnaround in the company's internal management and engineering process. As an Information Technology savvy, he has played a pivotal role in re-working and re-defining National Food's mission and marketing objectives. Being an ardent believer of developing people for improved performance and higher productivity, he has always been instrumental in developing human resource on an ongoing basis. He plans to take the Company forward through people development. Following are the excerpts from an exclusive interview with Abrar Hasan.

National Foods started manufacturing and marketing of packaged spices at a time when every one was using the stock lots available at retail stores. Our philosophy was, and still, based on: 1) purity, quality and innovation, 2) customer satisfaction and 3) value for money.
The mission and objectives are: 1) to be positioned as food company, 2) consistent quality and pure ingredients, 3) authentic recipes and 4) attain and maintain leadership in all categories of products being manufactured.

The evolution of National as a brand name itself is an interesting story. The brand design was finalized to encompass loyalty and to convey positioning of the brand. The rainbow is a symbol of purity which also emphasizes quality. For the first decade , the Company focused only on purity and quality. Mass marketing methods were used to promote the brand. Profitable selling and large volume achieved helped in transforming the Company to a food company. While the brand position was maintained as the leader, position as a leader became segmental also.

In the following years, the need to reposition the brand was realized. We wanted to reposition the brand as a food brand rather than a spice brand. At the same time we also concentrated on strategic and segmental marketing as we had already attained large product mix. Mass marketing was replaced by segmental marketing but strategic focus was maintained. Re-imaging the Company became necessary for re-positioning of the brand. Therefore, the new brand design and packaging was introduced.

As we wished to take the brand beyond the Pakistan market, we felt a need to promote the brand as a concept rather than the Company philosophy. The new brand was launched for the mainstream multiples segment. However, the new brand was built upon old guiding ethos. Now the brand is marketed as a food experience. However, realizing the strength of product itself we have also invested heavily in technology and packaging.

Saying this much I would say, "At no stage we undermined the importance of channels of distribution. How can one undermine this importance if the company manufactures and sells consumer goods. Our success can be gauged by a fact that not only we are still the market leader our market share is much larger as compared to the market share enjoyed by our competitors. I have no hesitation in admitting that we have learned a lot from our competitors. However, we are no longer a spices company, we are positioned as a food company by the sector experts.

We still flow the four Ps in the books on marketing. These are: Product, price, promotion and placement. We produce quality products which are priced to suit the customers. Our promotion policy has been changing depending on the targets we wish to achieve and we follow a distribution policy to ensure availability of our products at the outlets. As the brand loyalty is getting stronger, sales of various categories are on constant increase at a growth rate of about 28 per cent in the local market and 12 per cent in the overseas markets.

National Foods Limited commenced operations in 1970 with few resources but a very clear vision. The journey started from a household name and over the years it has become an international brand. Initially the Company was a producer single category, plain spices and pioneer in packaged spices in Pakistan. Today, the Company is ISO certified, follows HACCP in production processes and procedures, manufacturers seven food categories, exports to USA, Canada, Europe, Middle East, Asia Pacific and Australia. It also produces a complete Indian Ethnic food range of cook-in pastes and sauces which is aimed at the mainstream markets of Australia.