Mar 10 - 16, 2008

Fast food, which was originally conceived to give people inexpensive and quickly prepared meals at ease, for 85 percent of Pakistanis turns out to be the monosalwa, divine food landed in for loveable cohort. Dated back to 1920s, the idea appeared in America to take place rapidly among employed class for fast food eased hassle of domesticating meals at home and got them rid of cooking in the wake of demanding jobs. The idea went well there and replaced traditional cooking-required meals in practicality as today 1/5th of the US total population (around 45 million) lives on fast food that is in a sharp contrast to Pakistan where hardly 10 to 15 percent of total population has access to fast food because of its expensiveness, creating callous division between haves and have-nots. While initially in Pakistan few foreign and a local fast food restaurants started introducing burgers and french fries, the scene would soon be over crowded by the inundation of foreign branded outlets offering Italian pizzas, Chinese fried chickens, and American burgers. Spurred to react local firms, having realized their inability to compete directly, established supply chain of processing packed foods across the country. They apply standardized and state of the art food processing techniques on natural foods. The method of scribing ingredients and nutritious values over the packaged generic foods like meat, veal, and chicken brought in transformation in marketing of consumer goods. It also revolutionized the science of brands. Consequently, conscious of consumers was instilled with the concept of brand loyalty. The localized slogans and logos, representing national psychographics, catch up with the small portion of the society and consume out heavy promotional budget. Regardless of other promotional mix such as price, fast food companies strategically sideline handsome money for branding.


Yet, the ready to prepare and ready to eat foods, delicately packaged in protective wrappers to increase its shelf life, have price tags of not less than Rs. 100, therefore automatically deprived major chunks of the low income group of its taste. The target markets of these products are naturally confined to the group of high income brackets; for whom price up or down of food items is a "yawning issue" or not more than a buzzword in vogue. Amidst cruel some rising storm of food prices these surely must be the people who could have least hit, but adding insult to the injury was an advertisement by a local firm, K&N recently published in a local newspaper announcing deduction of prices of its range of packaged foods to a level sarcastically still befit few household budgets. The arrival of fast food gave birth to a new culture in a society where neither people are too work overloaded to enjoy cooking nor per capita income permits them to spend their hard earned money on such extravaganzas that factually describe the price list of offerings equally of local and foreign brands. Not less than Rs. 50 meal can be unaffordable to a person drawing on Rs. 4000 to Rs. 5,000 salary per month. When asked about the reason behind expensive fast food, the regional head of an international fast food restaurant, Subway, Tariq Saleem said, "They have to pay high import duties to bring in modernized cooking machineries from abroad, which is an add-on to cost." Even then, he considered price feasibility of Rs. 100 sandwich, which is the least inexpensive offer the restaurant makes, within the buying power of the large market. He said the prospect of target market expansion is fairly bright if law and order situation around the country improves. In xenophobia or whatever the motive beneath inside, miscreants have been targeting foreign-origin restaurants all over the country to jeopardize operational progress of the restaurants, rendering them financial losses and kicking hard on stomach of labours engaged in working there. The tyranny perpetrated by hooligans in few instances rendered losses of precious human life particularly of staff of the restaurants.


As said fast food meal is suitable to save hours of working per se that could potentially be utilized in generating useful economic activities instead of a source of entertainment. Certainly, the business of fast food itself contributes mainly in total gross national income but in Pakistan its ratio in food industry is as such insignificant. Unlike developed countries where almost all members of a family usually work to constitute in gross household income, the custom has not been widespread in Pakistan, just probably 50 million population of which forms the workforce that both includes male and female, and that too earning at subsistence level. Spending on a square-day meal shattered the real monthly saving of most of the workforce, quiet aside from their ineffectual induction in working hours. Indeed, the Parkinson Law, which says "work tends to extend in the time available" is at best defining the characteristics of Pakistani labours; who although are internationally acclaimed for their hardworking, for one reason or another they slue out of dedication in doing so. The fast food businesses though can have the advantage of wage arbitrage in Pakistan, they would neither in equal term have economies of scale and nor would roll in revenue. Because on one hand they would seek curtailing labour cost and would strategize to make sale at high price in the country on the other. Therefore, they would ultimately map out a niche position in the market, which furthers slicing the market into two unparallel halves.

Beyond the doubt, the fast food entry ignited the economic activities of the country and untapped new avenues for the employment as well as of business, in subsequent effect increasing gross national income and gross development product. But, genuine spirit of the fast food that is inexpensiveness should not be subsided. Price of the fast food must be determined in accordance with the per capita income of the nation that likely is happened in other developed nations. Otherwise, promotion of such brands must not be disseminated in masses as has been the case in relation to many other brands, people are unaware of. The ballyhooed marketing may gain something but dreadfully at the cost of dismantled social fabric.