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EBM champions nutrition with social vision

Interview - May 3, 2016

Dr Zeelaf Munir is a recognized businesswoman in Pakistan and the Managing Director of English Biscuits Manufacturers (EBM), the leading producer of packaged food in Pakistan. In an interview with Globus Vision, Dr Munir explains how EBMS’s vision and core values of quality and social commitment not only make it profitable but are also creating a better social environment for their employees and consumers.



What are your views on the actual state of the country?

There is a buoyancy and there are good reasons for that buoyancy. The macroeconomic indicators are encouraging, along with the investments coming for the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor).

Those are factors that certainly help in having a buoyant outlook, with the energy crisis hopefully being addressed and the peaceful democratic transitions that have happened in the country. If the focus remains on measures that help the economic growth of the country, Pakistan will succeed.


What do you think are the key factors that made the manufacturing sector in Pakistan become such important?

What drives the Pakistan economy right now is actually consumption, so it is a consumer-driven economy. 82% of our GDP is consumption based. Hence there is huge room for the manufacturing industry. The domestic demand is driven by our 200 million population and the number of people who have entered the middle class.

These are factors that drive consumer growth. For manufacturing and industry, the infrastructure needs to be there, so there should be policies that encourage industry ease of doing business, energy infrastructure and a well-trained workforce.

One of the biggest sources of potential in Pakistan is the youth. Over 50% of our population is under 25 years of age and therein lies the biggest potential: an educated, well-trained workforce.

All of these factors, if addressed, would certainly mean growth in the manufacturing industry as well.


We understand that today EBM is a symbol of trust to consumers. After over 50 years of branding and delivering, people really trust EBM and some of them even replace their meals with your products. What do you feel is behind this success?

The success is not something that has happened erratically, it is due to a vision, due to commitment. The underlying principle, what we always believed in, was that the consumer sector is basically a purely democratic process. If you’re in the consumer industry, the consumer holds the veto, so the trust and confidence of the consumer can never be compromised.

At the time when the sectors were unorganized, we had the vision that the packaged food industry – providing hygienic, nutritious, ready-to-eat food – was going to succeed, and EBM was one of the pioneers. But also it was one of the pioneers in communication. It was one of the pioneers in branding to get the trust and confidence of the consumers, and the belief in our people. Those were the factors that led to EBM 50 years down the road being where it is.


We have seen brands and companies changing the consumption habits of the populations and creating trends in the market. Do you feel that is happening in Pakistan?

Absolutely. It was part of the vision, to grow the whole market itself, not just the biscuit market but the packaged consumer good market. Pakistan was not a biscuit-eating nation; it was an occasional luxury with tea for people who could afford it. To make it into a ready-to-eat, readily available food between meals, that is what our communication was based on.


Do you think that this economic and social inclusion, taking this to people that before couldn’t afford it, is also profitable?

We have always believed in giving the best to our consumers; giving back to society is an inherent part of the sustainability of any business. This has been certainly very important for us. We believed in sustainable practices from the very beginning, so that when the community grows, when the country grows, so does the company.


How do you think that your brand is accepted in the international market?

We’re extremely proud of our brand because our brands have fulfilled the promise that they represent, and getting Superbrand status for our brands is a reflection of the market leadership that we enjoy and the love our consumers have for our brands.

To be able to delight consumers outside Pakistan with our brand is certainly something that we look forward to doing and have been doing already.

We’re exporting to 23 countries. That speaks for the strength of our brand. It speaks for the strength of our quality and our values of leadership, innovation, vitality and humanity.


Regarding CSR, how important is this within the strategies of the company?

CSR for us has never been about charity; we believe CSR is part of an obligation that one has to society and it is essential for the sustainability of economies.

It has been in the ethos of the company; we’ve always felt EBM should be a living institution with heart and soul giving back to society.

Our initiatives have been based on nourishing minds and lives, and when we’re nourishing lives we’re nourishing through our initiatives such as with the World Food Programme, where we make micronutrient energy-rich biscuits given out during food emergencies such as drought and floods. We are also involved with the country’s leading university hospital’s pediatric department in research projects. The intervention time is between conception and the first two years, so targeting pregnant women’s nutrition is one of the ways they felt would be better to solve the problem. We’ve been working with them making specific products with very good results.

Through our mother-child initiative we have supported a neonatal intensive care unit. Through our other health initiatives we are sponsoring multiple projects in various institutions that are of acclaim. We also have sports initiatives that target nourishing the bodies of young people.


Supporting healthy lifestyles. I was surprised to find out that you’re actually a physician.

Yes, with a lot of hard work I became one and then even needed more hard work to become a successful businesswoman.


Seems like you have been preparing for this because it’s very linked. What you’re doing, ensuring nutrition and also being a young successful woman, how important is this for young ladies in Pakistan?

Extremely important. One of the most important factors for our country to grow would be that 50% of the people have to play a part in growing the economy.

In every bit of research you can see that the fastest way to grow the GDP of a country is by increasing the workforce of women.

Women are extremely important. We’ve had women prime ministers, and the only woman who’s conquered not only the Everest but also the highest peaks in every continent.

Women who are fighter pilots, women who are winning Oscars. I’m very, very proud that I am a woman in a country where the opportunities are there to take.

I hope to make the same kind of difference in the corporate world.


You have been recognized as the best place to work in 2015. The kinds of companies that receive this recognition are always driving for innovation and implementation of new techniques. You’re making Pakistan proud. What are the strategies that you implement in order to achieve this and to make sure that employees are happy to work here?

Our employees, they are EBM, they represent EBM.

If our employees were not feeling the ownership of what they do, we wouldn’t be able to produce the kind of excellence that we produce.

We have always believed that our biggest resource is our human resources. They believe in the values of EBM. They believe in what EBM means and does for our consumers and for our society.

We provide them with an enabling environment where they can develop, they can grow, they can remain motivated, because what motivates people is having a cause that they believe in. We make sure that we try to provide an environment in which our employees remain motivated to continue taking EBM to the next level.

Empowerment is extremely important, but with empowerment also should come ownership and accountability, so they know that. They’re totally empowered to make decisions, to take risks, to produce results, and if there are failures they should know what were the reasons for the failures and what not to do next time.

You learn more from failures than you do from success as long as you know what were the reasons and how not to repeat them next time.


Where do you think is the most appropriate market for your products right now?

Very honestly speaking, the growth in the domestic market is such that it is not so much a commercial need for somebody who’s in the consumer food industry to be focusing on exports.

The reason we do export is because we want to be able to. We’re proud of what we make. We’re proud of the satisfaction that our products are able to give to consumers, and we want people from all the countries we operate in to have the opportunity to relish our products, whether it is the diaspora that has emigrated, whether it is ethnic markets, or whether it is in mainstream markets whose palates and tastes we can fulfill.


How do you think your company contributes to enhancing “Made in Pakistan’s” image internationally?

Following international standards and best practices, innovation and technological advancement has inherently been a part of our culture. We are an example of a company that has produced local products of palates that the consumers of our local markets relish but have been of international quality and standard.

Similarly, Made in Pakistan is something that all of us should be proud of if it is made in a manner that is internationally competitive.

Having that competitive edge and advantage happens when the focus has been on best practices and international quality standards in innovation and technological advancement. If those are the kinds of products that Pakistan is producing, we should be very proudly showcasing them to the rest of the world.


For the international audience who know your cookies and your products, what would be your message and why do you think they should be interested in acquiring them on a daily basis?

Depending on the palate, I can tell you our shortbread. You can compare it to any shortbread anywhere in the world. To our pride, our egg and milk cookie, Sooper, is probably among the top 10 consumed cookies in the world. That is the quality and that is the promise that we’re delivering to our consumers.