Biscuit manufacturers: EBM’s story and the journey that lies ahead

Published: July 27, 2014
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In EBM’s case, the vision was developing the concept of biscuits as ‘food between meals’. PHOTO: EBM.COM.PK

In EBM’s case, the vision was developing the concept of biscuits as ‘food between meals’. PHOTO: EBM.COM.PK

KARACHI: 

If one attempts to document the history of corporate Pakistan, he/she simply cannot ignore one name — English Biscuit Manufacturers (EBM), an inspiring story of entrepreneurial success and national pride.

Maker of the famous range of Peek Freans biscuits, EBM is a classic case study of pioneering entrepreneurship in Pakistan. It is one of the very few Pakistani companies that are larger than their multinational competitors in terms of revenue.

EBM started its journey around 45 years ago when corporate Pakistan was dominated by a few business families and multinational companies and that too, in a sector that was yet to be established. It was a challenging market scenario that discouraged the growth of start-ups.

Fast forward, EBM has now grown to become the country’s largest branded biscuits manufacturer, enjoying a 45% market share as per the recent Nielsen Survey. With an annual turnover exceeding Rs22 billion in 2013–14, it is certainly one of the largest local companies in Pakistan and bigger than some multinational food and FMCG companies.

Although it has a number of large brands including Rio, Gluco, Peanut Pik and Sandwiches, it is the flagship biscuit Sooper that alone accounts for almost half of the company’s revenues – Sooper is well over the Rs10 billion mark, EBM officials say.

With a 77% penetration, ‘the highest in any FMCG brand’, Sooper is larger in terms of sales than the sales of all products of any other biscuit company in Pakistan, EBM says. These statistics explain why Sooper is a household name for most Pakistanis when it comes to branded biscuits.

While many new players – local and multinational – have entered what, according to Nielsen, is now a Rs43-billion industry, EBM has been able to sustain its position as the market leader.

The company’s compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) for the last 10 years has averaged over 20% by value and 8% to 10% by volume. Its CAGR, in terms of revenue, from 2008 to 2013, has been 24%.

All this growth can be attributed to Khawar Masood Butt, founder of EBM who, through his vision and good governance, guided the company to where it stands today.

However, times have changed and so have market dynamics. What EBM has achieved is history and challenges that lie ahead are a reality. With Butt nearing his retirement and the second generation taking control at the helm, the market leader will certainly be tested with an ever rising competition in the branded biscuit industry.

“We have always welcomed competition. We actually think that the competition grows the pie. What we cannot afford is being complacent,” said Dr Zeelaf Munir, Butt’s daughter and chairperson of the company’s Executive Management Board.

In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, Dr Zeelaf shared the company’s success story and explained how she would move the business towards further growth amid growing competition.

“We have to continue to invest in Research and Development and assess consumer needs and give them products they want. We take competition seriously,” she said, putting special emphasis on R&D and innovation that, she said, were important drivers of growth.

Explaining the importance of competition, Dr Zeelaf quoted her father as saying, “In a competitive environment, opportunities exist. Even if they don’t, a strategic mind creates them.”

This is perhaps why EBM – in the 1970s when there was no competition – created a range from within Peek Freans to create competition in the market. “We had research done, showing that market was not growing and the consumption of biscuits was low, so a range was created to compete with our own product line.”

Though she welcomes healthy competition, Dr Zeelaf said illegal competition from the huge growth of spurious and counterfeit products was the real issue facing the branded biscuits industry.

This, along with other challenges, such as ensuring consistent quality of raw material, will certainly test the leadership skills of Dr Zeelaf whose main role is developing and execution of strategy along with overseeing the business. “Entrepreneurship has obviously been in my blood,” she said. Grown up with EBM, she kept in touch all along over the past few years before finally joining the company in 2010.

While trying to move the business forward, Dr Zeelaf would like to continue the legacy of her father that has turned EBM into a success story.

“Through sheer hard work, belief in the company and the initiative to invest in value-added technology, he was able to turn around a loss-making company into what would go on to become Pakistan’s largest biscuit manufacturing company,” Dr Zeelaf said, summing up how her father managed the business over the years.

It was not a smooth-sailing, recalled Dr Zeelaf. In the 90s, EBM had lost its leadership position due to a bombardment of multinational and local companies. Yet, again, it was the locally-developed Sooper egg and milk cookies that brought the company swinging back as a serious contender.

EBM would continue its strategy of growth and seek market opportunities, Dr Zeelaf said. The company has done very well in terms of organic growth but still sees potential in the market.

“Whatever our business needs for growth we will keep our eyes and mind open,” she said.

Having vision and values is very important for any company to be a long-lasting one, she said. In EBM’s case, the vision was developing the concept of biscuits as ‘food between meals’ and popularising this concept among consumers.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Sami
    Jul 28, 2014 - 1:15AM

    Pleasure to read this article. Our business community must be appreciated and ET also deserves appreciation for this series of articles.

    Recommend

  • Neelum Ahmed
    Jul 28, 2014 - 1:51AM

    Is Dr. Zeelaf Munir a Pakistani? Does she live in Pakistan? There is a Dr. zeelaf Munir who is an American, are they two different people? Can you please clarify. It will be very disappointing if this an Amercan.

    We need role models who are Pakistani, live in Pakistan and Love Pakistan, invest in Pakistan, and make it successful.

    Foreign investors who run local companies take their money abroad and don’t invest in Pakistan.

    Can you please do articles on successful Pakistani companies run by local Pakistanis. Thank you.

    Recommend

  • saleem
    Jul 28, 2014 - 1:58AM

    Congrats to EBM and its leadership

    Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Jul 28, 2014 - 2:06AM

    Let me show you the real picture, which this article has missed.

    Greed has taken over business ethics in Pakistan…………..to get maximum profits these manufactures have increased prices, lower their quality standards and reduced the weight of the products.This means that they are making profits while not providing customers the commodity which is being paid for.

    I could still remember the tastes of biscuits we used eat during our childhood days and their sizes, their feel…………..everything has gone but the prices are almost three times. Now I prefer imported biscuits for my own children rather than buying the crap that is being offered by the local companies.

    Recommend

  • jamshed kharian-pak
    Jul 28, 2014 - 2:11AM

    EBM – English Biscuit Manufacturers 100p Made in Pakistan by Khawar Masood Butt, the founder, R&D and innovation done on place in Pakistan, is certainly one of the largest local companies in Pakistan and bigger than some multinational food and FMCG companies. I Love to eat biscuits

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  • Aziz
    Jul 28, 2014 - 3:01AM

    The next stop is the huge export market provided they can maintain standards and can develop quality products suited to the relevant market. Nice reading.

    Recommend

  • Zeeshan Shah
    Jul 28, 2014 - 7:48AM

    @Neelum Ahmed: To answer your question, since I personally know Dr. Zeelaf Munir, Dr. Zeelaf Munir was born in Pakistan and after grading from medical college moved to the U.S. for post graduate training. Dr. Zeelaf Munir lived in the U.S. for a number of years but moved back to Pakistan in 2012 full time to run her family’s business. I hope that answers your question.

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  • Huma
    Jul 28, 2014 - 12:03PM

    I found a fly in my biscuit by EBM, yuck.

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  • anjumm
    Jul 28, 2014 - 1:33PM

    @Pakistani:
    Very flawed logic. How do you recall taste? Moreover, you do not have the taste buds that were there in your childhood. Do you know human body evolves over time? Above all, taste is relative. If you are given the exact same cookie twice, with your eyes closed, you may report that the two cookies tasted differently. Proof is available in tons of psychological research.

    Recommend

  • Saad abdullah
    Jul 28, 2014 - 1:46PM

    @Pakistani
    Buddy not sure what this comparison is supposed to prove but I’ve had quite a few people try the Pakistani biscuits and to a man they agree that the quality is quite good
    As for prices, I’m not that old (32) but the prices of a lot of things in my childhood were much less. Fuel was ten times less, so was electricity and so were salaries. If the price of biscuits has only gone up three times then reducing weight or quantity is the only way to maintain some profitability. I’m sure they are not selling cookies for charity

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  • maheen
    Jul 28, 2014 - 6:53PM

    @Pakistani:
    if you knew the crap foreign companies are putting into their packs…. you would stop eatring altogether!!. everything here is made of genetically modified material (corn, wheat, meat etc etc) and is a 100 times more harmful to our health. So even if you get less for more in Pakistan….. atelast its made of ‘real’ stuff!!!

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  • fly
    Jul 30, 2014 - 4:01AM

    @Huma:
    New marketing slogan: Now with extra protein!

    Recommend

  • WAN
    Jul 30, 2014 - 11:37AM

    @Neelum Ahmed:
    yeah ,She is Pakistani and daughter of EBM Owner.

    Recommend

  • Aamir
    Dec 2, 2014 - 8:15PM

    Khawar Masood Butt is NOT the founder of EBM. Somebody should ask him how it was that he came to become Managing Director of the company. Sleaze of the highest order. ZERO ethics.

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