| FOOD CHAIN No. 1 - November 1990 |
by Alex Bush, Ann Maddison, and Mike Battcock of Intermediate
Earlier this year women in Dhaka were asked about their attitudes to buying packaged snack foods. Traditionally these were made at home but with all the pressures on women's time the purchase of convenience foods is becoming more attractive. This is providing an opportunity for non government organizations ( NGOs ) to, support the poorest of the poor to generate income. However, reaching the markets is a constraint for many of these organizations. NGOs will have to change their marketing strategy and use the existing channels rather than relying on their own marketing channels.
Surveys in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also revealed serious concerns over the quality of packaged snack products, and a readiness to, pay a premium for products that were known to be of a high quality. This means that, despite the fact that there are already many producers there may be room for more if they can appeal to the consumer on the basis of quality.
THE TRADITIONAL SNACK FOOD SECTOR
'The preparation of snack foods has traditionally been an activity of the poor... but this sector is undergoing rapid change in Bangladesh where some 6 per cent of the workforce in Manikganj were found to earn twice the average daily wage of construction workers.'
Packaging in Sri Lanka
Snack foods are an integral part of life and customs in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Certain snack foods play an important role in seasonal celebrations and festivals; others are available for travellers on buses and ferries and for children at school. In Bangladesh, snack foods play a larger cultural role in that they are given as gifts and are essential in entertaining guests.
The preparation of snack foods such as Chana chur (a savoury spiced mixture ), Mooa (puffed rice mixed with a local molasses and rolled into balls), Pitha (home made rice cakes), Murukku (sweet or savoury fried chips) and Thala karali (sweet sesame rolls) has traditionally been an activity of the poor. These food processing enterprises are particularly suited for the poorest of the poor because:
• products can often be made using equipment already available at the home which means little capital is required to establish the enterprise;
• women can prepare these foods at home which is more culturally acceptable,
• food processing activities can be 'fitted in' between other activities in the home.
This sector has been generally overlooked and underestimated. The Equity Policy Centre found that this sector employed 6 per cent of the work force in Manikganj, Bangladesh with average daily wages nearly twice those of construction workers. In some towns in Indonesia over a quarter of the workforce is involved in snack food preparation.
THE CHANGING FACE OF THE SNACK FOOD INDUSTRY
'In order to effectively market food, NGOs can choose between setting up alternative trading networks or "plugging into" the established distribution systems.'
The snack food sector is undergoing rapid change in Bangladesh. Relatively new products like rice flour noodles ( for example Fuji Noodles and Aladins' Chinese Egg Noodles) and Peanut Crackers have become very popular and are now reaching remote rural areas, and traditional products are being sold in new ways: packaged chana chur, small cartons of mishti dhoi (sweet yoghurt), and salted peanuts in aluminium laminate packages.
In Sri Lanka, snackfoods cover three main types: sweets, traditional snacks, and freshly cooked 'short-eats' ( snack meals ). The most significant changes are taking place in the popularization of traditional sweets/snacks in towns and the city by upgrading packaging and marketing, for example packaged dodol and murukku. With the escalating price of sugar, medium and large-scale industries are diversifying the range of sweets available. Now that greater emphasis is being put on using indigenous crops, there is a huge potential not yet realized in the more economical cereal snack sector. Unless the traditional producers adapt, they will find it difficult to compete in the new market for snack foods that is developing. New small-scale producers will also have to bear this in mind.
THE EXISTING NGO MARKETING SYSTEMS
In Bangladesh the involvement of most NGOs with marketing has been minimal up to now, but if they are to contribute to the marketing of high volume products such as food, they have two options: the first is to set up an alternative trading network that delivers the products to the existing retailers; the second is to 'plug in' to the established distribution systems. It is therefore essential that NGOs working with these small-scale producers have a deeper understanding of the market and are able to predict changes.
The Market Research Company of Bangladesh has just finished a survey of packaged snack foods and spices in Dhaka which looked at traditional products like chana chur, biscuits, chira (fried flattened rice) and mooa.
The majority of the consumers interviewed (95 per cent) bought snack foods and bought them most weeks. The favourite items were chana chur and biscuits bought in 100g or 200g packets. The smaller packets were more popular because of their convenience but both the consumers and the traders expressed a greater concern for the quality of the ingredients than the quality of the packaging. So, work needs to be done on producing a quality product with packaging that can be recognized but does not have to be comparable to packaging of the large commercial companies. As the report stated 'providing quality is ensured the consumers are well disposed towards buying indigenous snack items in the future'.
A separate consumer study was undertaken in Sri Lanka by an independent market research company with the objective of finding potentially marketable 'new' products. The results showed that consumers wanted indigenous products in more convenient forms but the overiding theme was that they wanted guaranteed quality as they were afraid of adulterated food.
Production of snack foods provides an exciting opportunity for groups of poor people to generate income, and NGOs seriously interested in assisting large numbers of food producers need to give much more consideration to the problems of marketing, and must include appropriate costs.