A look at the South-Asian brands that are making a mark in the international markets
In the day and age of globalization, new media, e-commerce and a market that always seeks more, many South-Asian brands have garnered fame and fortune beyond their home countries. From household items to apps to snacks, many businesses mushroomed in times that were primitive; and many of these flourished with limited resources.
Rising from a history of war and partition, countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, have been able to make it big, even out of small situations and ventures. And today, many of their brands speak volumes of their contributions in both the local and foreign markets. We look at a few brands, that have paved the way for these countries, thus making buyers, sellers and stakeholders cognizant of their abilities.
When it comes to household products, PRAN-RFL Group is a name that is revered in the market for 40 years. From producing jams and jellies to pumps, plastic and even Tupperware, PRAN-RFL has a wide range of products under its belt. It is one of the largest conglomerates that has a booming consumer base both locally and internationally.
Late Major General Amjad Khan Chowdhury in 1981, started RFL with a small business named Rangpur Foundry Ltd (RFL) which specialised in making irrigation pumps, solely focusing on water solutions such as making irrigation pumps to ensure pure water and affordable instruments that will help improve rural life.
What started out small, soon began to expand, leading Chowdhury to introduce more products under his brand. And soon, RFL started supplying a variety of products such as pumps, tube-wells, and gas stoves, under its wing. This shift eventually gained them the title of being the largest cast iron foundry and light engineering workshop in Bangladesh.
Its agro-based product entity Pran, came to being, after he leased six acres of land in Narsingdi, to cultivate fruits such as papaya, banana, pineapple and other crops. Seeing the potential and scope of the agriculture sector, Chowdhury felt that the way to make it more lucrative was to increase the shelf life of fresh produce. Eventually, this vision helped him establish his agro-processing business Pran in 1991. Hence, it didn’t take Pran long to reach the international market; just five years after its establishment, the brand made its maiden export to France in 1996 starting with canned pineapples and as per 2016 reports, Pran exports to 130 countries, reached about 300 million customers.
Among its many remarkable investments, Pran promoted contract farming, which roped in contracts with 100,000 farmers countrywide. It has given back immensely both agro-processors and farmers, by ensuring a link between the latter and the former. This is the kind of mediation that helps businesses especially the agriculture sector to thrive. Additionally, Chowdhury also wanted to dabble in the dairy sector, seeing that the sector was struggling. As a result, Pran Dairy made substantial investments in the sub-sector so that farmers can increase the productivity of animals, which in turn will help them produce more milk. The company has changed the lives of many, by employing 84,000 people directly and 200,000 indirectly. As a result, their businesses were able to create job opportunities for 15 lakh people.
Between 2013-2014, the brand exported products worth $150 million, according to company data. And their products are available in chains like D-Mart (India), Wilkinson (UK), Dollarama (Canada), Carrefour (France) and ECI (Spain). In 2016, the company had expressed in a news report, that they intend to increase their export by at least 30-40 percent every year and are also exploring new products. This includes products like frozen foods, sweets, poultry, nuts, toys, long-life cake and plastic. In that year, reports also found that the company’s exports, which started off with puffed rice and chanachur several years ago, stood at $184 million (equivalent to Tk 1,443 crore) last fiscal year.
Over the years, Pran became a recognised name in homes, televisions, billboards and throughout all and every media. Its popularity has landed it ad endorsements with popular local and international media personalities such as Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, and the most recent one being Indian actress Sonakshi Sinha.
The rising demand of household goods continues to challenge Pran to expand its line of products. At the moment their food and plastic (RFL) each has a product line about 800 items specialising in agriculture, household, sanitary utilities, kitchenware, bedding and mattresses, building materials, engineering utilities, lubricants, shoes and various others. It is indeed admirable to see the heights this brand has reached; that too from a small business of irrigation pumps.
Pathao’s rise to fame was instantaneous within a few years in Bangladesh. In a span of five years, the app that had initially started out as a ride-sharing platform soon became our go-to app for delivery services and car rides. The app was founded by CEO Hussain M Elius, Shifat Adnan and Fahim Saleh. In its primitive state, it operated through a private Facebook group, where passengers would call for ride sharing services and Elius would manually dispatch riders to help people commute through the city. Apart from Dhaka, Pathao’s services are available in Chittagong and Sylhet; the brand has also made its mark in Kathmandu in Nepal.
At the beginning, the team wanted to see if there was a demand for this kind of service; and the overwhelming responses from people answered the questions for Elius and his team. The company started their services in the middle of 2016, signing up more than 100,000 drivers and 1 million users across the country by March. Not only have they registered 50,000 bikes under its platform but they’ve also been valued over $100 million since April 2018. Just five months down the line, Pathao launched its services in Nepal. In an exclusive interview with CNBC two years ago, Elius had explained that the range of services under the app included bike sharing and car rides as well as food and parcel delivery. Although the app has gained popularity for its bike sharing services, Elius had also mentioned that food is another area that they’re also thriving in, even though it had just kick started in January 2018, deeming them number one in the food market.
With transactions only being cash based, making payments can sometimes become challenging for those of us who may not have cash in hand. To put an end to our dilemmas, Pathao created the scope for e-transactions. For that, they have decided to launch their own wallet that will allow riders to pay for services on Pathao electronically. Having started just three years ago with only 100 bikes in 2016, Pathao is on its way to further expansion. With a loyal customer base, the app with its services managed to scale up really fast primarily because there were no other motorcycle taxis in Bangladesh. Given that Dhaka is a densely populated city of 18 million people. Those of us who commute day in and day out, the commute can be fairly exhausting if you’re trying to get from one end of the city to the other. Seeing that our city is destined to suffer the consequences of stagnant traffic, this app comes as a lifesaver, and for Pathao, the market certainly seems lucrative.
Creating an ecosystem in a country that is heavily dependent on cars, buses, rattling CNGs or even rickshaws as a means of transportation is cumbersome. But Pathao has managed to be efficient, while factoring in the many challenges of the society and the roads. From the platform, the company was able to deduce the demands of not just customers but drivers as well. It also helped create employment opportunities for many drivers as well. Riders registered on the Pathao app make more money compared to other jobs; hence their needs are as much as their responsibility to their passengers. But prior to recruitment, Pathao does a few checks before taking riders on board; first and foremost is if they are capable of driving or not. They are also given training on safety and security, and also given tutorials on how to use the app. Additionally they are also familiarised with the code of conduct, so that they are fully aware of how to behave with a customer. Among other features that the app has provided for rider’s safety is the access to rider’s information, and the ability to share it in case they felt at risk. This way, passengers can be tracked when they’re on their way. Other options include mentioning the 999 number where passengers can call and make complaints.
Although started in 2016, Pathao has had a fast growth; because of which they are always on their toes to ensure quality services. As a local brand that provides not just one service, but many others without having to physically walk to a destination, or go to a restaurant, makes life in the urban jungle a lot less hassle-free.
When someone returns from India and brings back a box of Haldiram’s confections, it feels no less than a gift. Started in 1918, this 79-year-old brand of potato chips, sweets and snacks brand was the brainchild of Ganga Bhishen Agarwal, who also went by the name ‘Haldiram’ in Bikaner, Rajasthan.
Who knew that a snack shop that started with sweets and namkeen could rope in the riches for India? Generating close to a whopping Rs 5,532 crore ($780 million) in annual revenues by selling over 400 products, their sweets, cookies, papads, sherbets, pickles as well as traditional snacks and savoury items, have garnered popularity in many regions of India and overseas.
Expansion for Haldiram’s began through a manufacturing plant in Kolkata. Eventually, with its popularity and consistency, Haldiram was able to establish more manufacturing plants based out in Delhi, Nagpur, Rudrapur, Gurgaon and Noida, the household business Haldiram’s, has retail chain stores along with a range of restaurants in Nagpur, Kolkata, Noida and Delhi. A news on Financial Express stated in February this year, that Haldiram’s sales have skyrocketed, resulting in sales above USD 1 billion- which is almost double of the local McDonald’s franchise. Armed with this achievement, Haldiram’s is not afraid to apply for an IPO, moving forward. Their current plans however include expanding their portfolio by introducing frozen foods to their customers.
This has been received well by the export market as frozen foods are items which have a large fan following, particularly among families. Apart from being a prominent name in the local market, Haldiram’s has put itself on the map in 80 countries, including Germany, United States, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Australia, New Zealand, Canada as well as Japan. Reports in 2019 stated that Haldiram’s had made its way into the US e-commerce market through Amazon’s Global Selling Program. The move is said to help them penetrate into the US market and further expand their global customer base. Since the US market happens to have a large global market, 40 percent of Haldiram’s revenues come from offline exports. Furthermore, Haldiram’s also has US FDA approved selection with customised packaging, all of which have been implemented by Amazon US. While Ganga Kishan was the founder of what is now recognised as Haldiram’s; the height at which it stands today is because of his grandson Shiv Kishan Agarwal who helped carry the legacy forward. Because of which, Haldiram is recognised as the 55th trusted brand in India as per Brand Trust Report.
Today we live in a world where many companies have emerged as startups; and Flipkart, an e-commerce platform based in India is no different. Founded in 2007, by students of Indian Institute of Technology, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal with only Rs 6,500 as a startup fund, today the platform is lauded as one of the largest e-commerce identities in India. Prior to starting their own brand, both founders had launched a website focusing solely on sales of books with countrywide shipping. Subsequently after its launch, the site rose to fame upon receiving 100 orders per day.
Two years down the line, Flipkart was able to acquire the Bangalore based social book discovery service weRead from Lulu.com. From there, Flipkart’s journey moved forward to many more acquisitions- from digital distributions such as Mime360.com, content library of Bollywood portal Chakpak to online electronic retailers, such as Letsbuy. With the growing demand of customers, Flipkart branched out with a wide range of services; and apparel became a part of this too. By 2014, Myntra, the online fashion retailer joined hands with Flipkart, for Rs 20 billion (USD 280 billion). From there on, Flipkart has had acquisitions and partnerships with renowned brands such as Motorola; at the time when Flipkart was marketing models such as Moto G and Moto E, the high demand of the phone subsequently after its launch in the market in May, caused Flipkart’s website to crash. In 2017, Flipkart held a 51 percent share of all Indian smartphone shipments, racing past Amazon India who was still lagging behind at 33 percent.
Among other brands that Flipkart has acquired is online fashion portal, Jabong.com. Additionally, the brand also has its own mobile payments service called PhonePe based on the Unified Payments Interface (UPI).
With an ever-growing market, Flipkart has managed to increase its product base, and with it, has increased its customer base. And in the emergence of Flipkart Global in 2017, sellers can export globally and also exercise the same retail e-commerce export capabilities brought in by eBay India. Among other opportunities introduced by Flipkart Global is allowing international buyers from over 35 global eBay platforms to get access to Flipkart’s vast list of products. This global program helps sellers across India to connect with 171 million active customers of eBay globally, reaching buyers based in the United States, UK, Germany, Canada and Australia. In 2019, Flipkart invested USD 4 million (Rs 29 crore) in customer engagement and rewards platform EasyRewards.
Additionally, the US retail chain Walmart acquired an 82% controlling stake in Flipkart for USD 16 billion valuing it at USD 20 billion. Currently, Flipkart has 30,000 employees and a revenue of Rs 43,615 (USD 6.1 billion) as of fiscal year 2019; among other achievements for that year would be signing a partnership with Authentic Brands to license and distribute Nautica in India.
Gul Ahmed Textiles Ltd
Entering the textile trade in the early 1900s, Gul Ahmed is a name that echoes in all of Pakistan. Their manufacturing wing Gul Ahmed Textile Mills Ltd, however, began in 1953. The company has made enough contributions in the market, which led to its listing in the Karachi Stock Exchange in 1970. From there on, Gul Ahmed Textile Mills Ltd has made substantial progress in the field of textiles.
Currently, they have the capacity to hold more than 51, 840 spindles, 300 high-end weaving machines. They also have other technologies such as modern yarn dyeing, processing and stitching units. Making everything from cotton yarn to finished products also serve as one their unique selling points. Gul Ahmed also has its own captive power plant, which includes gas engines, gas and steam turbines as well as backup diesel engines. They are believers of ecologically friendly solutions, hence they’ve taken it upon themselves to set up a wastewater treatment plant to treat 100 percent of its effluent, thus bringing it to National Environment Quality Standards (NEQs) levels.
As a textile giant, Gul Ahmed plays an integral role in the retail business, leading to the opening of its flagship store “Ideas by Gul Ahmed.” What started out in Karachi has now stretched out across the country, resulting in an extensive chain of more than 40 retail stores, specialising in home accessories to fashion clothing. With 50 years of expertise, Gul Ahmed as a brand is still going strong- both locally and internationally. Because of its quality, consistency, innovation and technology, the brand is overseeing subsidiary companies in UAE, UK and the United States. Its associations and trade bodies include All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry, The Karachi Cotton Association, Pakistan Business Council, Employers’ Federation of Pakistan, Pakistan Textile Exporters Association, All Pakistan Textile Processing Mills Association, Pakistan Bedwear Exporters Association, Pakistan Hosiery Manufacturers & Exporters, Karachi Centre for Dispute Resolution, International Textile, Manufacturers Federation as well as Fellowship Fund for Pakistan.
Shan Foods (Pvt) Ltd
Majority of the Indian channels that we subscribe to often show numerous advertisements by Shan Foods. Introduced by Pakistani entrepreneur Sikandar Sultan in 1981, Shan Foods is one of the leading Pakistani producers of packaged spice mixes used by locals in Pakistan for foods as well as for other cuisines of the Indian Subcontinent. Since its establishment, Shan has been exporting to more than 50 countries; thus gaining them recognition as a popular household spice brand for traditional meals.
What was once a cottage industry soon made its way across the globe, exporting to Europe, United Kingdom, United States and the Middle East. Shan experienced rapid growth in 2000, particularly in the central and northern regions of Pakistan; by 2004 the brand made its official journey to the Indian market through a cooking competition in Delhi. Fast forward to 2008, Shan had gained popularity within Pakistan because of its quality brands being sold at reasonable prices. At the moment, the company exports to 65 countries across five continents, exporting recipe mixes, plain spices, salt, pastes, accompaniments, desserts, instant noodles as well as ready to eat items.
The aforementioned brands have propelled themselves to international heights through their dedication to innovation, diversification and a desire to add value to their consumers’ lives. In the changing landscape of a world reeling from the 4th Industrial Revolution, brands have to position themselves as such that they are able to leverage the tools and incept themselves into the hearts and minds of consumers to remain relevant in this VUCA world.