Words by Ghina Maalouf
…Stands for a folk vernacular Arabic expression which translates literally to “top it off with a mastic grain” alluding to an overly generous & grateful gesture towards someone. Mastika, mesk, meskeih or mastic, these amber-like drops used in Middle Eastern delicacies and fragrances for centuries, ancestor of the bubble gum and other chewing gums all around world is going back to its roots, all stripped out from any artificial flavorings and sugar. Watch out! Mastika is making a come back -and judging by its package- with a “bling”!
We sat down with Naël Shaar, Managing Partner of Master Chewing Gum & Candies (MCGC, previously known as Gandour Group’s ex sister company), who guided us through his MASTIKA’s revamping process. What we found most admirable about this rebranding is that a factory would put its lucrative objectives in the back seat and focus on reviving our heritage by preserving the traditional tastes while promoting natural food and a healthy lifestyle. Funnily enough, the fact that the company has adopted such a strategy and is re-centering itself around its core business and DNA, might actually be the very reason behind its profitability and success.
In 3 words describe the new Mastika gum?
N.S: Innovative – Natural – Glam
Why would you qualify it as innovative?
N.S: MASTIKA is the first uncoated, sugar free and aspartame free mastic flavored chewing gum in the MENA region and thus in the world. It is presented in a sophisticated, oriental pop packaging so that it reflects the high quality of the product while giving it a nostalgic nod. This is why we have been granted the prestigious Innovation Award for the Best Hard & Soft Candy category back in November 2016, handed to us by the Yummex – Gulfood (Dubai), the leading international trade fair for the confectionery and snacks market in the MENA region.
What is the thought process behind reviving the Mastika Gum?
N.S: It took me approximately 3 years to develop MASTIKA. I have looked around and noticed that most companies were selling the mastic gum as a mass consumption product and in order to keep their product’s price low, these producers are compromising on its quality. For example, the mastic taste of those products lasts only 2 to 3 minutes. Nobody thought to cater this type of flavor to a high-end segment in an elaborate packaging. It took us a lot of time to get the right lasting flavor, the adequate chew and the proper packaging design. Consumers are looking for healthier alternatives and new things to try out and here we are today, offering them Mastika.
What direction is MASTER CHEWING GUM & CANDIES undertaking for future?
N.S: As the last remaining producers of Chewing gum and Candies in Lebanon, we have decided to invest all of our efforts in innovation (ingredients, flavor, packaging, etc.) and shift our focus on the mid to high market. We have drawn from social observations that the consumer has grown weary of the ordinary flavors and packaging already available in the market. That is why we have decided to launch the legendary taste of the mastic, wrapped up in an appealing, authentic style and to enhance its added value by incorporating Xylitol, a sugar substitute, that is more expensive yet healthier than Aspartame.
Walk us through the packaging? What makes it so special and relevant?
N.S: First off, it is a rigid white tin packaging (instead of the cardboard or paper wraps) decorated by embossed golden arabesques, mixed with contemporary tribal designs that reminds us of the product’s oriental roots and reminiscent of how we used to store gum or candies in the old days. It basically sums up our philosophy: Modernism rooted in traditions.
How long has the MASTER CHEWING GUM & CANDIES factory been operational? And for how long has it been manufacturing Mastika Gum?
N.S: MASTER CHEWING GUM & CANDIES (MCGC) has been a family owned and operated business in Lebanon since 1960. It is one of the factories that best represents the Lebanese industrial entrepreneurship and is a pillar to the FMCG production there. As for MASTIKA in its form today we launched it towards the end of 2015.
Why did you decide to take on the family business?
N.S: Before his decease, I promised my grandfather Chafic Gandour (One of the founders of Gandour & the founder of MCGC) that I will do my best to keep his legacy alive. Today, I am trying to fulfill that promise. It needed a complete change of mindset. Initially, MCGC was a mass-market producer. Nowadays, I’m convinced that this strategy is obsolete. It will not guaranty the sustainability of the company. This is why we have shifted to mid-and high-end markets. Mastika is the first tangible outcome of this new strategy. Marketing and sales indexes seem to consolidate and back up my approach.
Your oldest memory of your Grandfather and the factory
N.S: When I was a kid, he told me that if someone wants to handle a company he needs to know every teeny-tiny details of the operations. He added that if I plan to work at MCGC, I should start at the bottom as a production worker and work my way up. I followed his advice and today I know exactly our production processes and potentiality thanks to him and his humbleness.
Where can we find Mastika?
N.S: For the time being we are focusing on Lebanon and try to draw conclusions from its market behavior. We decided to sell the product via major pharmacies in Beirut and high-end grocery stores in order to surgically target our clientele. We will start exploring the GCC markets within this year. However, one can order it and its display stands via our website (www.mastergum.com).