Gampaha as a prototype district in Sri Lanka

Tuesday, 13 December 2011 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Last week I was invited by a MBA alumni group of a top university in Sri Lanka to share some thoughts on the changing landscape of Sri Lanka. Given that we see many reports of the most visible aspects of the development agenda, be it the Southern Highway, the first new hotel brand in the country Avani or the Hambantota sea port, I thought of sharing some new insights that many have not got exposed to.


Taking out the Household Income and Expenditure Survey published by the department of Census and Statistics on 3 August 2011, I thought of focusing on the Gampaha District, which is where most of us in FMCG marketing test market new products.

The reason why we used to do our test marketing of new products in the Gampaha District was because it is the district with the best representative cross section of consumers in relation to the total country, so the feedback from consumers becomes very valid. The other reason is that the district is secluded geographically and avoids the spill-over impact due to floating clientele. Let me share the key findings.


If we look at Gampaha from a population perspective, below 14 years there is a 23% of the population, which is very close to the national number of 26%. Between the age group of 15-59 years, once again the number is very close at 63.6% as against the 61.8% national value whilst the over 60 age group is at 13.3% as against the national number of 12.3%.

I guess if one can do a deeper analysis on the Socio Economic Classification (SEC) it will further validate the representativeness of the Gampaha District to the national picture so that it can be useful information for test marketing operations.

Next step: Maybe the next step would be that the district can charge the private sector a nominal value to test market a new product that includes key hoardings, access to a particular place in the Sunday pola for display and trial purposes so that the uniqueness of this district can be marketed in a suitable manner.


On the area of poverty, Gampaha is ranked number three at 3.90%, which is way below the national average. Whilst this indicates a positive sign one can also interpret this as few families being unemployed.

Next step: Identify the age group unemployment levels so that focused companies can be targeted. For instance, whilst the overall national unemployment level registers at around five per cent, on the age group segment 18-22 years, the number moves up to almost 14 per cent plus. May be we can see a similar skew in the Gampaha District which ideally can be targeted with BPO companies that might be attractive to a youngster of today.


On the education front, Gampaha scores the best on those who have not had schooling at a mere 1.8%, whilst those who have been educated up to A/L is above the national average but against other urban cities it is below in schooling up to Grade 5 and also in the passed A/L segment.

Next step: Maybe an evaluation must be done as to why those who passed A/Ls are below the urban number of 18.7%. Maybe it could be that many get educated in Colombo schools due to proximity and is a practical error of collecting data. Maybe it’s worth tabulating why only 13.3% are at up to Grade 5, as it may mean that families are getting smaller and is reflective in urbanised districts of Sri Lanka and we see this trend in Gampaha in this case in point, which is very interesting.

Vehicle ownership

The ownership of motorcycles, three-wheelers and buses in the Gampaha District is at a higher percentage as against the rest of the country as well as against other urban markets, which may be reflective of the lifestyle of the households and occupation. The families that have no vehicles is significantly lower at 33.5%, which is indicative of the district registering the second position in the average mean income at Rs. 48,870.

Next step: Marketers who are targeting the Gampaha District will have to take these insights into account when developing brand marketing campaigns. For instance, a hoarding that is been designed to the Gampaha District must show motorcycles rather than motorcars as this number is way above the national average. On the other hand, it also indicates the opportunity that exists for motorcar marketers.

Ownership of HH items

The penetration of washing machines to be highest at 22.3% is interesting and I guess marketers must see what key strategies helped the company get there. Maybe it is reflective of the lifestyle they lead, which makes them want such products and it not being a luxury. However, it’s strange that the ownership of refrigerators, cookers and electric fans is below the national average in urban markets. I would argue that the urban number might be skewed due to Colombo District and maybe it’s not reflective of a normal average.

Next step: The data clearly indicates the market opportunity for manufacturers of electric fans, cookers and refrigerators. Maybe stronger links with the housewife associations in the Gampaha District might give better insights to the reasons behind these numbers.

Dabur in Gampaha

The Indian fruit drink company setting up a 15 million dollar plan to export fruit drinks to South India is very interesting given that it will another feature of making Gampaha a prototype for being a model district of Sri Lanka.

Next step: Given that unemployment levels are at a low ebb with poverty at just 3.9%, maybe novel productivity enhancement methods will have to be employed to drive overall production. This can become a model for rest of the country.


Given the penetration of sewing machines is at 51% of the households, maybe products like handlooms can be targeted for value-added export marketing so that within the next three to five years Gampaha District can become ranked number one on mean income as well as on overall poverty.

Special project

In the quest for developing a district to be a ‘prototype model District,’ an area to be cognisant of is special numbers. For instance in the Gampaha District, taking the households that are suffering from chronic illness and disabilities, the percentage is at a high 17.5% as against the national average of 14.4% and the urban markets at 15.4%. This means a special programme needs to be developed.

Once again the Gampaha District Development Committee has taken note of same and there is a village where partially blind people make bags that are being exported and even available on SriLankan Airlines flights, which are the details that make a prototype district.

Next steps

  • A similar analysis must be done on all 24 districts so that ground realities can be understood.
  • A master plan must be architectured so that a three to five year developmental programme can be done just like what we see in Gampaha.
  • The overall developmental agenda must be done with a clear mission like what we see in Gampaha.
  • This bottom-up game plan must be linked to the national Budget.
  • GDP growth must be tracked at the district level if possible so that national level planning can be targeted.

(The author is actively involved in the growth agenda of the country in the public and private sector and has a double degree in marketing and an MBA and is a doctoral candidate in business administration.)