Amidst growing competition and rapid innovation that have changed the dynamics of sweets and bakery business, S Abdul Khaliq, Pakistan’s oldest mithai [sweet] brand, is struggling to expand – the unique taste and traditional halwa, however, helped Khaliq survive the competition.
Based out of Karachi, S Abdul Khaliq Shahi Halwa Sohan Merchant is the oldest mithai brand in the country with roots tracing back to early 1500s and the Royal Court of the Moghul Emperors. The Moghul Emperor Humayun, Queen Victoria and Mirza Ghalib have all tasted Khaliq’s halwas [sweets], claims their website.
Their main specialty is the traditional ‘Habshi Halwa’, which is why they are known as Shahi Halwa Merchant, the man in charge of the business, M Hanif told The Express Tribune. Hanif is supervising the business because the owners have moved abroad.
What has always set Khaliq apart from other sweet makers is the unique taste of its products and the rich history attached to its house special item: Habshi Halwa.
The owners claim that their ancestors had remained the official halwa makers of the royal court for almost 300 years. The Moghul emperors liked the taste of their halwas to the extent that they kept it exclusive to the royal family and even restricted the general public from tasting it.
It was, however, in 1835 that Abdul Ghafoor was permitted to sell his royal recipes to the general public and he opened a shop in Chandni Chowk in Delhi, India. The recipes were handed down the generations from Abdul Ghafoor to Abdul Hameed and Abdul Hameed to Abdul Wahid – the present day Sheikh Abdul Khaliq (late). The current owners are said to be the third generation running the business.
Despite such a rich history and unique taste, the traditional sweets maker has not been able to expand beyond three outlets – and that, too, in Karachi.
“One has to be innovative and competitive to remain on top of the game,” said Nauman Mirza, who runs an online food portal Foods Connection Pakistan that promotes food outlets, restaurants, sweet marts and bakeries in all big cities of the country.
“By now, they should have had about 30 outlets in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad,” Mirza said, adding, “They did not expand or grow when it was required of them.” Even their last branch was opened in Saddar at a time when Saddar-based businesses were relocating to places where the consumers are – Nazimabad and Gulshan-e-Iqbal, for example.
Although Khaliq has not yet benefited from the consumer boom that has already helped other sweets makers and bakeries grow manifold, the traditional halwa maker has not completely given up. The business is running a franchising scheme, which according to Hanif, is part of their expansion plan.
Given cakes are rapidly taking over the tradition culture of sweets, Khaliq tried its luck by entering the cake business. They seem to be trying various other things that include a modern website offering all kinds of online retail facilities. Their in-house printing press helps them design beautiful “made to order” hand-made and printed boxes.
Despite all the creativity and variety associated with their cakes, the product has not clicked yet, Hanif admitted, Khaliq has received rave reviews from customers on Foods Connection Pakistan but mostly for its mithai (sweets).
“Their cake business did not click because they have established themselves as sweet makers. Therefore, when they introduced cakes, they should have marketed it properly,” Mirza said. “They are still surviving because their sweets have a unique taste,” he said.
Mirza also said for S. Abdul Khaliq there is a possibility of age disconnect that is the brand is more popular in older generation compared to younger generation.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2013.
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