S Abdul Khaliq: 500-year-old mithai brand struggling to expand

Published: April 12, 2013
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S Abdul Khaliq’s main specialty, the traditional Habshi Halwa, has always set it apart from other sweet makers due to its unique taste and the rich history attached to this house special item. PHOTO: FILE

S Abdul Khaliq’s main specialty, the traditional Habshi Halwa, has always set it apart from other sweet makers due to its unique taste and the rich history attached to this house special item. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: 

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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Reader Comments (8)

  • Arzoo
    Apr 12, 2013 - 6:09AM

    Sounds like a business going the same way to extinction as Abdul Hannan Sweets, and iconic restaurants of the past in Karachi like Delhi Muslim Kali Hotel, Alfa, AlFarooq, Café George, etc. It is one thing to claim that their “unique” recipe is 500 years old and consumed by the likes of Mirza Ghalib and Emperor Humayun and quite another to provide some documentary proof in terms of its’ mention in some historical writings. The fact that the owners are residing abroad also gives us conclusive evidence of a barely viable business that is surviving on the basis of its’ good reputation established over the years. It does not matter if they do not have branches in Gulshan and Nazimabad. I remember people travelling from Karachi to Hyderabad just to buy Bombay Bakery’s cakes. In any case, will be good to see S Abdul Khaliq owners to come up with a marketing formula that will keep this legendary sweet shop in business, but I will not be holding my breath for it.

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  • Apr 12, 2013 - 9:36AM

    Have been living in Karachi for 23 years now and have never heard of this brand of mithai, guess i do not know everything about Karachi yet

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  • Zezu
    Apr 12, 2013 - 12:06PM

    Who cares!!

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  • Haroon Rashid
    Apr 12, 2013 - 12:10PM

    As I see the comments of Arzoo which is valid, but the bottom line of Abdul Khaliq moving into printing, packaging, cakes, and technology.
    The traditional Halwa is gone with the owners moved abroad, and left to Ustad, and Chotas to run the business with some Taki in the lead.
    The pride of the owners with the tradition, and the continuity of the recipe, is very important. I’ve noticed a very heavy board put in the box when I purchased Halwa and asked that to be removed as its weight was about 70grams with a very heavy box, with the inner lay sheet board weighing.
    Finally that was not removed. Abdul Khaliq is a technology project of good box, packaging, color printing with a good heavy box with Mithai or Halwa. They do business with the festives as they try to imitate United King, bakery which is a success story, and Ramazan Iftar reciepes just for quick turnover. But no match to United King.
    Once the real owners come to Pakistan Tribune should publish another story to see the difference.

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  • Tariq
    Apr 12, 2013 - 12:42PM

    Their ‘malai khaja’ and ‘kajoo barfi’ are the best available in Karachi. Their gift packs for special occasions also stand out. Never really tried their full range, but I hope they continue to be in business.Recommend

  • ali gilani
    Apr 12, 2013 - 5:17PM

    @Zezu: “who care”? Come on now. People like you are apathetic and are reason for the miserable mindset we all are enveloped in. If the author had worked out this cultural piece of story to tell why in the world you’d take time and effort to say ‘who cares’? Well we should care for our heritage and history. I believe you are one of those nihilist guys who wants to destroy every little happiness we have and resurrect an outdated system like khilafat or ‘badshahat’ or whatever your fantasy of a system gets your jonses off to.

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  • Abid P. Khan
    Apr 12, 2013 - 6:01PM

    No one can beat their Sohan Ka Halwa. I do miss Abdul Hannan, though. The mass produced stuff we get today is just a faded copy of what it was once.

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  • Apr 13, 2013 - 10:25AM

    s abdul khaliq has lost it taste and identity.. they should shut down their business and the person operating it right now has no sense what so ever to manage a business.

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