Isphanyar Bhandara


The current government has now been in power for over four months. How do you see the business environment in Pakistan evolving under the PTI government?

Business in Pakistan has always been rewarding. We have 220 million consumers in Pakistan, which is a big consumer base. But my views on current performance of the Government are not complimentary.

Unfortunately, the Government has failed business owners due to a lack of policies on the business front. Looking at the dollar rate, it has escalated. There are no policies for businessmen to follow. Direct foreign investment has fallen.

We have various government departments breathing down our neck on a daily basis.  

New laws are being made every day and there are penalties for not being able to cope with them. These agencies are coming up with ideas to make businesses less viable and more difficult to handle. It makes it difficult for business people like us to survive.

There is a gas and electricity crisis, we have to run our generators on coal and diesel, which is very expensive. 

Inflation is another major issue. We can afford to drink tea in a nice restaurant but the poor are facing one of the highest inflations in a decade. Inflation rate right now is at 9%-10% which is no where to be seen in the rest of the world. 

This government is good at making noise but it is short on deliverance.

The Murree Brewery was established in 1860, it was among the first modern beer breweries established in Asia. It is a public limited company and one of the oldest company on the Kolkata stock exchange. What is your vision of the beverage landscape in Pakistan? And where is it heading to?

The beverage landscape in Pakistan is excellent!  About 60% – 70% of our population of 220 million is under the age of 30. These youngsters are people who like to have their soft drinks, beer, water etc but the recent senseless “double taxation” is not welcomed by the industry. The Government and  laws have to be business  friendly and create a business type atmosphere.

All businesses are complaining and because of this we are going to court to challenge the decision.

You don’t have to take my word for it, take a look at the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), it’s coming down. No one is investing in Pakistan and is afraid.   

The company has branched into the manufacturing of food products, fruit juices, glass containers and Murree Sparkletts drinking water. The traditional activities of the company are brewing and distilling of fine liquors and beers. The company has also increased the product line and capacity. What is the strategy of the company? What products is the firm focusing most on?

We are Focusing on all products. The water is just as dear to us as whisky and similarly the whisky is as dear as the juices and ketchup. There is of course a difference in profitability for each product but that’s besides the point. 

We are improving our technology, by buying machines from all over the world.

You doubled your alcohol-production capacity in 2016 and profits have risen by almost 100% since 2012, reaching a foamy $19.6m in 2017. What are your objectives for 2019?

There are no specific objectives. The idea is to grow sales, have more profitability for shareholders, and workers. Our company stocks are trading very good at the moment at $8 per share. 

29% of Murree Brewery shareholders come through a Fund that is called Kings Way, it is UK based but with headquarters inLuxembourg. 

Kings Way Fund has stopped investing in all other companies in Pakistan except for Murree Brewery where it has invested approx 60 million dollars. This shows their confidence in us.

One of your biggest challenges is that a large number of people or companies are running the juice business illegally (no taxes, companies not registered). How do you cope with independent juice producers that sell low quality products at much cheaper rates? 

Businesses that are part of the cottage industry and are not paying taxes have an unfair advantage over the businesses that are paying taxes. Government should crack down businesses that don’t pay taxes and seal the factories. They should only let legitimate tax paying companies do business. 

We’ve got imported beer and scotch coming in from Dubai via Karachi. This smuggling is happening under the very nose of various Government entities. 

Then there is Moonshine  that causes death due to poor quality. Again Government is sleeping on this issue.

After meeting with the Minister of Commerce, Textile, Industries and Production, Hon. Abdul Razak Dawood, he mentioned that the country was boosting its exports of value added goods. What is the export strategy of Murree Brewery? I read that you were in touch with a Czech Brewery, how is this partnership going along?

We are not allowed to export alcoholic products by law. We do have small export of Juices. We’ve mainly exported to Afghanistan and sometimes we get orders from African countries, but our focus is mainly on increasing our share in the local markets. 

You have just inaugurated new state-of-the-art beverage plant. What will this new beverage plant bring to the company in terms of production? What are the projects and expansion plans of the company for the next few years?

We installed a new machine, it’s a filler bought from China. We invited the deputy chairman senate to inaugurate the machine. We will keep installing new machines because our growth and survival relies on modernization and R&D. 

Pakistan is on the right track to restore investors’ confidence. At the same time, Murree Brewery is not only an example of a successful business that can go from generation to generation but it also promotes the spirit of Pakistan. In what ways would you say Murree Brewery’s vision aligns with the country’s vision?

Current Government policies might hinder Pakistan’s economic growth. Let see. The new laws are hindering the progress. I want to expand my customer base. We are adding new investments and at any given time we are importing 1 million – 2 million dollars worth of raw material.

Our trajectory is to expand the sales with minimum or no interference from government. 

What is the contribution of the company in terms of CSR activities?

We indirectly run a school for deaf, dumb, physically challenged and blind girls. We give them a facility where they do not have to pay any rent. They also have access to all the necessary help they require. 

We have a budget of approx 100,000 dollars for C.S.R activities. Furthermore we sometimes buy equipment for hospitals. 

After studying your high school in Texas, being a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan from 2013 to 2018 and now being the CEO of  Murree  Brewery. What do you feel most proud of?

We run a very clean ship. We have no debt & no liabilities.  We don’t owe anyone even a single penny. We have a Clean Reputation, we do not cheat taxes. Running a clean ship is something we are proud of. 

What is your final message to the readers of USA Today who consider Pakistan as a potential investment destination in the beverage sector?

I believe Americans are naive people, they believe everything they see on the news. There is nothing to be scared of in Pakistan or in the region. Pakistan has potential because it is a young country and therefore consumption power is equivalent to that of 2-3 countries combined.

Asian continent  is young and vibrant compared to Europe. They’re full of energy, full of ideas, full of billionaires and millionaires. The future growth of beverage, beer and wine industry is in Asia. 

However, having said all this myself and the business community hope and pray that the Government of the day is able to manage the country on all fronts especially economic.