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Scent of Chennai pervades the Gulf


Raja Simhan T.E.

CHENNAI, April 2

AFTER a trip to the Gulf, Akbar comes back to India and gifts an expensive bottle of perfume to his sister. Guess where the perfume was manufactured? Paris? New York? London? Wrong. This one came from one of the units in the Madras Export Processing Zone (MEPZ)!

In the past few years, the perfumes or `Attars' _ a Persian/Arabic word meaning fragrance, scent, or essence _ from the MEPZ units are competing with some of the big names such as Charlie, Brut and Poison in the Gulf market.

`Attar' _ from the Arabic word `itr' _ is commonly used because the manufacture and application of oils that are blended with the raw material belong to the East Indian and Persian traditions.

So popular are these perfumes that the Gulf market is flooded with duplicates of perfumes made by units in the MEPZ. `Ahsan', an attar made by MEPZ-based S.F. Patel & Sons (India) Private Ltd, is one of the products being duplicated. It is duplicated in Chennai and sent to the Gulf, says Mr. Dinesh S. Patel, Managing Director of S.F. Patel & Sons.

An ISO 9002 company, S.F. Patel & Sons reported a turnover of Rs. 4.62 crores up to January for 1999-2000. The company's perfume brand `Ahsan' and talcum `Tara' have been successful in the Gulf region, said Mr. Patel.

For MEPZ, the chemical and allied products category was one of the largest earners in 1999-2000 with revenues of over Rs. 45 crores up to January. Of this, perfumes and compounds contributed over Rs. 15 crores, according to Ms. Malini V. Shankar, Joint D evelopment Commissioner, MEPZ.

Attar perfume oils belong to a specific category of fragrance products derived from natural plant substances, blended to produce rich scents. They are 100 per cent alcohol-free, and have been in use in West Asia and India for long.

Attar Mohd. & Dawood Bros (Madras) is a leading exporter of attars from MEPZ. Established in 1950 at Kannauj (famous for attars), Uttar Pradesh, the company initially concentrated on the extraction of attars and essential oils from flowers and herbs, and catered only to the domestic market.

Realising the vast potential for the products abroad, the company expanded its operations and became an export house in 1981. Its attars and allied products are now exported to the Gulf region and to some African countries. In 1986, the company started t he MEPZ unit and its exports for 1999-2000 were worth around Rs. 10 crores up to January.

``Nature has provided us with the raw material such as fragrant and smoky flowers and herbs. We weave them into fragrances to rejuvenate the senses, using a blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern methods ensuring quality, reliability and dependabi lity,'' says Mr. Sajid Kazmi, Manager, Attar Mohd.

Mr. Kazmi said the company's `Shaheen' (means eagle in Arabic) brand is acclaimed in the Gulf. Some of the other prominent brands of the company are Shammat Ul Amber, Dehnul Ward, Attar Zafran and Janatul Firdaus, he said.

The Kannauj plant has a capacity to produce 100 tonnes per year and the MEPZ unit around 500 tonnes per year.

From making the traditional attars and incense sticks, the company is now moving towards marketing luxury spray items, including EDT (eau de toilette) and EDP (eau de perfume). Though the company's main market will continue to be the Gulf, it plans to ta p the South-East Asian and African countries too, he said.

Despite the popularity of the attars in the Gulf, it is not easy for companies to sell their products. Unlike Attar Mohd. Dawood & Bros, S.F. Patel & Sons does not sell the attars with the `Made in India' label. As part of its marketing strategy, the com pany uses only the bar-code to specify that it is from India.

Asked why such a strategy, Mr. Patel says that there is still a psychological indifference to Indian brands in the Gulf. The Indian firms in the past have tried to break this barrier using the `Made in India' label, but were not successful.

Mr. Kazmi says that the company will not use the `Made in India' label on spray perfume bottles (imported to a large extent from China), as the mindset in the Gulf is that spray perfumes cannot be prepared in India, and that it belongs only to France. `` We do not have any choice, but to take away the `Made in India' label,'' he said.

Mr. Patel said perfumes from MEPZ have become so popular that some of the shops in Chennai's Burma Bazaar (a major shopping area for foreign goods) have been selling them claiming they have been imported from the Gulf.

As part of its expansion plans, the Patel group is moving towards manufacturing hair cream, shampoos, room air fresheners, anti-lice lotion (for the Sri Lankan market). The expansion will cost around Rs. 5 crores. ``We have good distributors abroad, and are confident to generate funds from them and the bankers,'' he said.

Yet another firm _ Nayaab Perfumes _ which started less than a year ago posted a turnover of Rs. 59.29 lakhs during the fiscal 1999-2000 (up to January). The company is into blending of attars, and meets the demands of the local companies. ``We want to s lowly tap the South-East Asian and African countries,'' says Mr. Gulamabbas Attari, in-charge of the MEPZ unit.

Pic.: Production line at one of the units at MEPZ.

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