For decades now, imported aerated drinks and offerings from multinational companies (MNCs) have ruled the Nepali market. As Nepal struggles to produce/manufacture even the most basics consumer goods, the market for soft drinks and bottled juices is inevitably captured by the MNCs.
Even so, a few homegrown players are coming up. Established in 2017, Singapore Beverages Nepal Pvt Ltd is one such company, which has released a host of Nepal-made bottled drinks and is gradually trying to penetrate the rigid market controlled by international companies.
Aashish Sharma, founder and managing director of Singapore Beverages, talks to Sunny Mahat of ApEx on the company’s plans and possibilities.
As “Jeeru” is your flagship product, let’s start by discussing the concept behind it.
After we started the soft drinks manufacturing company, we realized our other drinks like the Cola, Lemon, Lemon and Lime, Orange were just replacements for products that were already in the market. We wanted to offer something different and something indigenous and known to Nepali palates. We did some research and checked global trends. That’s when we came across the idea for Jeeru. Its main ingredients are jeera (cumin seeds) and black salt—something readily available in most Nepali kitchens and used for both cooking as well as medicinal purposes. We felt this drink would connect to a large segment of Nepali customers and it is already doing so. We have exported Jeeru to the US as well.
With the success of Jeeru and other products to follow, do you think home-grown products like these will ever displace international brands?
This is a big challenge for us. It’s like an ant fighting a mammoth. A four-year-old company is competing against companies that are over 150, have a heritage of their own and are synonymous with cola drinks. Yet we will try.
We all know of the country’s trade deficit and its dependency on foreign brands. We need to start supporting Nepali brands that can displace MNCs. Take Indian brands like Mahindra, Bajaj and Tata for example. They were born in India and are now global companies. We need that belief in our homegrown products and the belief that our local products can compete against imported ones. We need ‘Born in Nepal’ companies to represent the country abroad. We have the ability but not the platform.
What measures are you taking to protect the environment as a manufacturing company?
We do whatever is possible to protect the environment. We are using recyclable items wherever possible and promote recycling of our used bottles. Carbonated drinks need to be packed in pressurized containers and we have our limitations on packaging materials, but we are still trying to find greener alternatives to them.
How has the government supported your enterprise?
We have been enunciating this for a long time. It’s simple, you just can’t compare a newborn to a healthy grownup. In Nepal, ironically, a new homegrown company like us are put on the same category as a multinational company which has been operating worldwide for decades. How does that help us?
We are made to follow the same regulations and pay the same taxes. Basically, we stand at the same podium as an MNC. For us to survive, we need a lot more support than what the government is giving to us right now.
How is the customer perception of local products in the market? Has it changed in recent times?
There’s this thinking among Nepali customers that any ‘local product’ has to be of inferior quality. This thinking is very rigid in areas dominated by the MNCs. Nepali people are just not ready to accept that a local product can be of international standard. In an import-dependent country like ours, this perception has been controlled by international brands. I think this is because of the hypnotic effects of massive marketing and brand activation that the MNCs do. They convince consumers that their product is good and then the consumers start thinking all other alternatives are inferior.
We request all consumers to at least try our products. Drink the product, not the Brand! We also appreciate media support, in instance in the form of the ‘Made in Nepal’ campaign the Annapurna Media Network is currently running.