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An Exclusive interview with Mr. Shakil Ashfaq Chief Executive Officer, Eva Cooking Oil

Q1) Over the launch of Eva Cooking Oil, how would you describe the journey since then?

The journey has had its fair share of challenges and rewards. We have faced the challenges you would expect any brand to face especially in a saturated market. In the case of cooking oils, there are over 300 brands in the market. To be able to stand out in such a market is truly rewarding. To conceive what the consumer thinks and needs, to develop a strategy to offer value to the consumer, and then finally being able to deliver that value, is a very rewarding experience. It’s a continuous journey. The brand continues to evolve. The brand has to keep the connection with the consumer, and continually enhance the value it offers.

When we first had the idea of introducing a quality premium brand ‘Eva’ with modern and innovative packaging, we were confronted with a lot of criticism, which made my belief even stronger to enter the market that was already packed with more than 300 brands. I was sure what I was offering to my users, was a unique and a better value.

Q2) What initiatives did you take for the brand to survive and take it to the top?

The product has to be at the core of the marketing mix. Our product strategy has four fundamental components – purity, health, processing, and packaging. Having pure and unadulterated ingredients is an obvious requirement for a food product. Being backward integrated was an advantage for us. We could easily ensure the purity of the product. Offering a healthy product was very important to attract a consumer who is increasingly becoming more health-conscious. We choose the optimal blend in our product which makes the best fat profile for the diet. We chose the best processing technology available. Finally, we realized the importance of packaging in delivering quality and convenience. It also became the best way to show off our innovative attitude.

After the product, our communication had to complement the brand personality which was modern and progressive. The communication has got to be direct and assertive.

Q3) How did building a team help you in bringing a more positive image of the brand to the consumer end?

Having a team that understands the essential aspects of your targeted marketing mix is crucial.  It was crucial that the team had the same firm belief in the brand which I had.  For an FMCG product, trade or retail is the immediate customer. Having the right sales team, which is the main point of contact with the retail chain, is very important. I am blessed to have a devoted and professional team.

You cannot succeed unless you create a win-win situation for your employees, your vendors, your customers, and society. We made sure that the brand philosophy we designed was adopted and followed by everyone in the value chain process. What we conceived was communicated down the line and that’s the only way we could deliver value to our consumer.

Q4) How do you manage the ongoing challenges and competition that comes across?

The product, again, was at the core of our brand strategy. Once you have the assurance that the consumer recognizes the value you are offering, everything becomes manageable.

We are continuously facing the challenge of how to balance the cost and quality. We have a zero-tolerance on the quality part.

Competing against leading brands with strong legacy value and huge marketing budgets, we had to find ways to differentiate with a solid brand building process of our own. To build a brand, not only to survive but to maintain a competitive edge is a continuous process and requires smartly allocating your resources.

Competition is essential in creating an environment where the value is perpetually improving for the consumer.  The brand simply cannot lay off guard.  We are continuously evolving and working closely with our partners on how to improve our product and services by staying engaged with our customers.

Q5) what is your style of management?

My management style is based essentially on the principles of ownership and trust.  Every manager has to work as an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is a highly adaptive soul. They can find solutions to challenges much more efficiently than any ’prescribed’ method. They must know they have the trust of the higher management chain in order to function this way.

This style of management holds high risks as well. You have to choose the right people and you have to define and communicate your broader strategy effectively.

Many of our younger team members have been given a chance to prove themselves and they have never failed us.  Team members at every level must see growth potential.  This culture is getting stronger with each passing day.

Q6) If you could change your career to anything, what would it be?

I would be a scientist. Science has made the greatest contribution to society – from improving the quality of life in general to answering the eternal questions deeply rooted in the human psyche.  Having said that, you can find challenges and inspiration anywhere.  I love doing what I do.  Challenges excite me, my passion is to create services or products that matter and improve the daily lives of people living around. I am always thinking about how to improve further – this never-ending challenge is what keeps me going.

Q7) who is your biggest inspiration in life?

The biggest inspiration in my life is my children.  To watch them grow and groom their potential is what motivates me.  At the same time, they teach me a lot of things.

Q8) What new ventures are to be seen under the wing?

Things are looking very promising for Pakistan. My aim is to diversify and undertake new ventures and be a part of the growth which is destined for this country and its people.

Q9) What message would you like to give to the youth that is now heading towards initiating their business in the food industry?

Follow your passion. If you’re lucky enough to know what excites you, don’t let go of it. You must enjoy what you do. It is the shortest route to happiness.

It doesn’t matter what field you’re in. If you’re good enough to add value to your audience, you will succeed. The rest of the essentials, like hard work, positivity, patience, courage, etc. will only determine how quickly or how late you will get to wherever you want to be.

 

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