Wednesday, 23 November 2011

7 As of branding Jumla apples

Jumla is a far-flung remote district of Nepal with harshness and beauty of nature juxtaposed on the same canvas. While more than 90 per cent of Jumla habitants crave for food after six months’ comfortable consumption, the big, juicy and crunchy organic apples can be bought here at a mere price of NRs. 10 (USD 1 = NRs. 80). The climate is harsh here. There are no all-weather roads to reach Jumla. The only one road that joins Jumla to rest of Nepal is the Karnali Highway which is dusty, bumpy and dangerous, and almost impossible to travel through during the rainy season. In spite of all these challenges, the atmosphere and scenic beauty here is beyond imagination and the journey of Jumla apples from an unknown commodity to a brand in demand is fascinating.

Apples were introduced in Jumla in the 1970s. However, it was only since 2006, when the Surkhet-Jumla road (the Karnali Highway) opened as a seasonal road, the Jumla apples started reaching customers in nearby Surkhet and Neplagunj. Earlier the apples remaining after household consumption were fed to the cattle. Only few people working in Jumla used to take few apples for their families and relatives as gifts. The only way to reach Jumla was the airway and being a remote place, no one was allowed to carry more than 20 Kgs of possession.

The market accessibility snowballed the apple plantations. Since 2008, farmers have been planting more than 100,000 saplings per year. In the years to come, there will be more Jumla apples in the market.

Within a short span of time, the apples from Jumla have created a niche in the Nepali market and the demand for the brand Jumla apples is growing each year. Earlier, the Jumla apples found in the market used to be bruised, unevenly coloured and unevenly shaped. However, the apples were still tasty, crunchy and juicy. As the apples were harvested haphazardly, even by shaking the tree and picking from the ground, the bruises appeared after it reached the market.

After the farmers got training in improved harvesting and post-harvest management, they started grading and packing the apples properly. The apples for the first time saw foam nets, wrappers, and cartons. Traditionally farmers stored apples inside their houses in cool dark rooms. Now some improved zero-energy apple stores have been developed.

In comparison to Chinese and Indian apples, Jumla apples are widely recognised as tasty and crunchy apples in Nepal.

Jumla declared itself an organic district in 2007, and in 2009, the District Agricultural Development Office initiated organic certification of apples for three Village Development Committees. Even before announcing Jumla an organic district in 2007, pesticides were only used by the larger famers, an estimated 5 per cent.

The farmers went through various trainings and were inspected by Organic Certification Nepal (OCN) in August 2009 and were certified “Organic in Conversion”. The OCN is a Nepali certification agency which applied the Government of Nepal’s Organic Guidelines for this certification.

The marketing was supported with posters, banners and “certified organic in conversion” stickers for each apple to create demand and trust among consumers. In a similar manner, in 2010 these farmers organised themselves into three cooperatives, and 200 farmers were certified fully “organic’ and another 150 as “organic in conversion”. Slowly the uncertified apples also started benefiting from the increasing awareness among consumers about Jumla being an organic district.

Till 2009, apple producers in Jumla were hardly organised and sold apples independently. Therefore, they did not have much bargaining power for better prices. They also did not have direct contact with major apple wholesalers in urban markets and depended on apple sales to local traders.

In 2009, the three certified farmer groups undertook joint marketing, and in 2010, nine Jumla cooperatives did so under the umbrella of the Jumla District Cooperative Federation. More farmers started being organised as the group certification is cheaper than individual certification. This further helped the marketing and branding of the apples.

The Jumla apples are affordable at a price of around Rs. 120 per Kg in the departmental stores and fruit shops in Kathmandu. It has to compete with the Indian and Chinese apples which sell at around Rs. 100 and Rs. 80 respectively. Being organic and tasty, Jumla apples are favourite among the consumers and they do not hesitate to pay a premium price. The resulting price is due to the transportation costs incurred in flying the apples from Jumla to Kathmandu and other cities. However, the price at Jumla just increased to NRs. 30 from earlier NRs. 10.

The marketers made available the apples at major departmental stores and places in Kathmandu, competing with the Chinese and Indian apples, though in small quantities. Meanwhile the fruit wholesale market, the retail shopkeepers and the cycle vendors helped Jumla apples reach the customers.

In 2008/09, China supplied around 70% apples, followed by India with 29% apples. In 2009/10, China’s market share was around 90%, with only 9% for India. The rest is occupied by domestic production.

To aware the people about Jumla apples the traders went for aggressive marketing. The marketers put banners and information stands at the selling points, advertisements were aired from radio stations and stalls were put at the major crossroads.

The farmers from Jumla and the traders gifted the Jumla apples to the President and the Prime Minister which created ripples in the media. The people got curious about the Jumla apples and started buying the apples which looked inferior in front of Chinese and Indian apples. Once they tasted the crunchy and juicy apples, there was no looking back.

Way forward
Besides the 4 As (Acceptability, affordability, availability and awareness) of marketing, I saw the other three As (Accessibility, attestation and association) equally responsible in building the brand Jumla apples. As an avid marketer, I believe the Jumla apple will be able to turn itself into an established brand owing to its superior quality, if it further incorporates another A (Assurance – assuring the consumers that the brand will maintain its acceptability and availability) in its branding journey.