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Rise of frozen food trade in Pakistan

Gone are the days when women have to concentrate much time on household chores, specially cooking? Now housewives are generally had opportunity to do other works instead of cooking only. Numerous fast food offers has given the break to many house women’s pain and stress of cooking for the whole family, every time as there are plenty of fast food items they one can order according to the need and time. Obviously involvement in such activities considerably reduced time spent in the kitchen by women which paved the way for frozen food to their kitchen. Moreover, with an increase in the number of women entering the workforce, the demand for convenient frozen products has gone up exponentially.

The roots of the modern ready to cook meal go back to 1950s when an America food company called Swansons hit the idea of making use of a huge surplus of unsold turkey after Thanksgiving in 1953. The company added all the other components of the traditional American dinner with turkey and packed it in aluminum foils. The containers acted as both baking tray to cook the frozen meal and a plate off which to eat it. The new meals were a phenomenal success, with 10 million reportedly sold in the first year. The tremendous success revolutionized the frozen food market.

With the passage of time frozen food market started picking up. The global frozen food market size valued at $291.8 billion in 2019 is estimated to reach $404.8 billion by 2027. The Pakistan frozen food market is forecasted to reach $726 million by 2024 growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.8 percent during the forecast period (2019-2024). The frozen food market in Pakistan is preliminarily driven by the convenience factor raising demand for products, such as nuggets, kebab, samosa, meatballs, sausages, etc. An average Pakistani spends 47.7 percent of their house hold budget on food consumed at home. Out of which $1.7 billion is on chicken.

According to a guesstimate this market is now somewhere between Rs35-50 billion which includes retail of raw chicken. Pakistan’s small ready-to-cook food market has more than 10 companies including K&N’s, Al-Shaheer, Big Bird, Frozen Fresh, Sufi, Menu, Dawn, Sabroso and PK Foods to name a few. Among them K&N’s is by far the largest player in the processed poultry market, commanding a majority share in market and is the only fully vertically integrated company operating in this space with the largest number of varieties.

The story of the frozen food market, however, is not simply the story of a few companies battling it out for a larger slice of a pie. It is the story of the rise of Pakistan’s middle class. Pakistan’s growing middle class of over 40 million people has resulted in consumer spending growth of 20 percent per annum. Pakistanis, according to a survey spent almost half of their household budget on food in 2012, the highest ratio in the world. A survey conducted by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, in which 84 countries were surveyed, revealed that Pakistanis spend more of their income on food than any other country. The country has 18th largest ‘middle class’ in the world — indeed it’s the middle class in Pakistan, which cannot afford a cook and hence go for frozen food items.

Middle class families have also changed their living pattern. More women are now working and everyone was putting in longer hours at the office in quest for better life. As such for them anything that could save time was popular and promoted as a good thing — it’s all about convenience. Advertising agencies played a major role taking the ready to cook meals to each and every household through captivating Ads. According to house wives “They were a relief from domestic labor, even if you had the time to cook from scratch.”

The term frozen and ready to cook food was an unheard phrase for Pakistani. K&N’s encahsed the idea and began supplying chicken to its first customers — hotels and embassies. And today, as the largest vertically integrated poultry farm, with a force of over 6,000 employees, over 100 company outlets and distributing to over 1,000 retail outlets across the country, K&N’s Foods stands as the leader in the market once thought impossible to even exist.

Pakistan produces and consumes a total of 8 million chickens daily and around 157 billion eggs per annum. In the last two years, however, poultry farmers experienced heavy losses and some 60 per cent poultry farms ceased their operations. Consequently, the abrupt closing of a large number of poultry farms coupled with a sharp increase in total demand for eggs and poultry products led to the price rise. Other factors include expensive chicken feed as well as increasing production costs in the rest of the poultry operations. For instance, the price of feed per bag has increased from Rs. 2,600 to Rs. 4,000.

As the story goes, the outbreak of the pandemic, which is normally referred to as the mother of all crises, hit a severe blow to the poultry sector with a 20 percent to 25 percent drop in demand and has had a huge impact since a protracted market closure in the beginning and then restrictive lockdown measures have not yet allowed the regular business activities to come on a normal course. About 35 to 40 percent of poultry farms were forced to shut down and the rest of the sector suffered heavy financial losses owing to unlimited closer of marriage halls, hotels, restaurants and food outlets, along with complete disruption in food distribution and delivery services as well as an almost non-functioning hospitality industry.

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