Lahore, akin to Karachi, is not well known for upscale ice cream parlors. Maybe the packaged ice cream brands have done a remarkable job of keeping the consumer demand for the category satiated, maybe the Pakistani consumer doesn’t fancy ice cream as much as he fancies the halwas and the mithais, or maybe there’s a tremendous vacuum in this category and there’s no shrewd marketer to realize this opportunity.
In any case, both these mega cities fair poorly in this category. In the category just below it, the one-size-fit-all ice cream parlor which tries to be everything to everyone, the track record of these two cities is not that bad. But even here, monopolistic trends reign supreme. For instance, when you say Lahore, the ice cream brand that is top-of-mind (apart from the packaged Yummy) is Chaman. Value-wise, this is equivalent to Baloch Ice Cream in Karachi, but while Baloch has a number of outlets all over Karachi, Chaman has just three in Lahore. And while Baloch has a strong competition, Chaman is almost a monopoly over there.
And now Chaman has arrived in Karachi. It started off with a fairly average launch, concentrating mostly on billboards to announce the arrival with no special deal offered on the launch, in fact no USP whatsoever. What it did do extremely well is get hold of ideal locations, both from the point of view of the target market and the number of members of the target market frequenting the area. It has opened two shops, one at Tariq Road near KFC, the other at Boating Basin.
And yet the place is not doing as well as it does in Lahore, in fact not as good as any good ice cream parlor ought to do.
But why? One of the major reasons is that the Chaman owner thought that it was already a well-established brand in Lahore and that the people of Karachi would know about it, even having tasted it on their visits to Lahore. Unfortunately for the Chaman guy, this assumption didn’t work.
Secondly, Chaman is charging a somewhat premium price of Rs. 50 per two scoops, again probably having the line of thinking that it is already an established brand and can charge whatever it wants. It’s strongest competitor, Baloch Ice Cream, has priced the same cup size at Rs. 35-40 depending upon the flavor.
Yes, there’s nothing wrong with charging premium pricing but you do need to be able to justify it. Chaman should definitely have done some brand activation, even reminding people of the rich heritage of Chaman in Lahore. It didn’t do that. It just put up a few billboards and they also give the impression that it was a new shop and not the king brand of Lahore.
The result is for all to see. Both the outlets are fairly deserted most of the time in spite of the fact that they are located at prime spots of Karachi.
Finally, the lackluster performance of Chaman is to an extent related to its taste. Although it has quite a number of flavors, more than most of the competitors, the taste itself is not that unique. It could be a case of Karachiites not liking the Lahori taste. It could be a case of Karachiites already having tasted similar tastes in other parlors at a much lower cost. That’s a disadvantage Chaman has in Karachi, a city which offers the ice cream consumer a plethora of choices in terms of prices and taste. It’s like being a big fish in a small pond to suddenly becoming a small fish in a very large ocean, although Lahore is no small pond by any stretch of the imagination, in this case it does.
When we tested five of their flavors – strawberry,vanilla, banana, pista and tutti fruit, they tasted more like the packaged ice cream brands rather than the handmade brands. And yes, that is a disadvantage. On top of that, Chaman doesn’t offer any toppings or cone options, a feature which has become a perquisite for any ice cream parlor in Karachi in this category. They do have their sundaes and other similar desserts though.
So what can Chaman do to turn things around in Karachi?
The cheapest option would be to go for a social media strategy, targeting youth havens Facebook and Twitter. If that’s not possible, then go the traditional way of creating and distributing flyers. But what do the flyers proclaim? Just making flyers about the brand and its location is not going to cut it. What Chaman needs is to come up with innovative ways of offering its ice cream. Buy 1 get 1 free on the slowest night or day. Eat all you can ice cream option at an extremely affordable rate.
Most restaurateurs would balk at the idea of an ice cream parlor offering buffet. But why not? If you have a number of flavors, nothing should be stopping you from offering the buffet option. How much can the consumer eat anyway? A dozen scoops at the most. Just look at the positive side. Your ice cream would start turning over, meaning you don’t have to throw away the half your lot just because it didn’t get consumed. Then you’ll know which flavors the target market is favoring, and then position your offering accordingly.
Come up with innovative flavors. Chocolate cum vanilla, or vanilla chips, a tactic which Hot Spot excels at and which plays a major part in its popularity.
These two options represent just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of things that Chaman can do to enhance its brand equity in Karachi without having to change the original recipe. But sitting on your butt expecting the brand to lift off on its own without any push is a sure recipe for disaster.