Putting India on the global fast food lane

Putting India on the  global fast food lane
There was a time in India, when grabbing a quick snack meant heading to one of the nearest pavement food stalls or carts, or to a modest eatery close to home or work. People made a beeline for the choicest dishes that the market offered, be it mouthfuls of pani puri in Mumbai, or a plate of hot idlis in Bengaluru. And in all the said contexts, while the food was readily dished out, the whole experience was epitomised by quick service.

Over 20 years ago, when the economy opened and began on a steady growth path, the market came to be introduced to a whole new set of ideas related to fast food and quick service dining. Led by globalisation, a younger population, awareness, purchasing power, and a willingness to indulge, the restaurant scene was ready to redefine the concept of QSRs.

With the advent of the affordable, yet supreme quality-keeping international quick service restaurant chains, a paradigm shift came to be seen in not only the restaurant business of India, but also in the people’s eating-out culture.

One of the early birds to have landed on India’s shore, over 20 years ago, was global QSR giant, and one of the pioneers of the space — McDonald’s. “McDonald’s came to India at a stage when the country was opening up to international brands. We introduced the concept of branded fast food in India in 1996, and raised the hygiene and quality requirements to international standards at all our restaurants and for our suppliers,” Amit Jatia, Vice Chairman of Westlife Development — the master franchisee of McDonald’s in West and South India, tells Deccan Herald.

Explaining the spurt in the QSR culture in India in recent times, Jatia says, “Over the years, there has been a steady increase in the number of people eating out of home and experimenting with cuisines. Since customers are exposed to more cultural influences, their interest goes beyond food, and extends to the experience provided by the QSR. They are receptive to new products and services, and want to be able to customise their menu items. They have moved from a testing phase to an indulgence phase, where they prefer more exciting products. They tend to show a variety-seeking behaviour in terms of outlets and variety of food.”

Globally, McDonald’s has revolutionised the rules of ‘fast food’, introducing the ‘assembly-line’ technique, among other innovations, to put together its legendary burgers, making the entire operation cost-effective, precise, and most importantly ‘quick-to-serve’.

The company, which is present in over 100 countries today, carries with it a unique heritage, which is to integrate its global (American) experience with local tastes, typical of the country it is operating in, including India. “We follow the philosophy of ‘Think Global Act Local’. As a result, we have developed products, which were uniquely Indian in taste by creating a ‘glocal’ menu to cater to our large consumer base in India,” Jatia says.

‘Glocal’ – the right blend of global best practices, processes and tastes with local (Indian) preferences; Such a convergence is the latest selling point among QSRs. Global chains have constantly tried to improvise their offerings in the context of the Indian market, paying keen attention to what Indian patrons want.

Let’s cook India something

While Indians have taken in global epicurean sensations by storm, global food companies have endeavoured to evolve new ‘fusion’ items as the market becomes more accommodative and experimental.

McDonald’s in India offers its customers the unique value proposition of Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value (QSCV), followed globally, which amplifies the fact that customers are at the core of all activities, and ensures global standards of cleanliness and hygiene. “We work within the stringent guidelines set by McDonald’s internationally, to ensure food quality and safety, ambiance and service. We have taken inspiration from, and added products to our menu from the international spread, including the iconic French Fries and Fillet-o-Fish, which have seen a phenomenal response internationally. As a result, we have integrated global practices into a model, which could successfully work in India. The only thing that differentiates India from the rest of the world is our unique menu offerings that have been created by keeping Indian tastes in mind. Our McAloo Tikki burger, Pizza McPuff, Paneer Wrap or the McVeggie burger, each is unique and has gone on to create a place for itself on the global iconic McDonald’s product list,” Jatia says.

The iconic Big Mac is sold hit in India under the name, Maharaja Mac. Since India has a large segment of vegetarians, the company has re-engineered its operations to address their special requirements, with a separation of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food products being maintained throughout the stages of procurement, cooking and serving.

While McDonald’s set India on the burger track, rival Burger King, the American burger specialist and QSR giant, has been enthusiastic about its robust growth in India, propelled by a strong strategy involving an India-specific menu, and push into several regional markets.

Burger King came to India in November, 2014. Talking to Deccan Herald during the opening of its first outlet in Bengaluru in June, last year, Burger King India CEO Raj Varman had said: “India is a global country. The dual-income nature of today’s urban Indian families has prompted a strong eating-out culture, thanks to disposable income, time, and awareness. The moment is opportune for QSRs to boom, and we are gearing up for the good times.”

Burger King’s India strategy involves, among other things, an India-specific product spread, even as burgers take centre-stage. Its India menu includes a range of non-vegetarian, and vegetarian burgers.

East meets West

According to Euromonitor, the informal eating out (IEO) industry was valued at $121.7 billion in 2015, and is expected to grow by 8 per cent in 2016. The QSR industry is valued at $18.9 billion of the total IEO market in India, while the western fast food (WFF) category is a fast growing part of the QSR industry, which constitutes to about $1 billion of the $18.9 billion QSR market.

International chains brought in their wake, technological advancements, which are imperative elements of the QSR industry today, as they significantly simplify operations and aid in providing convenience. This ‘glocal’ approach got all the more solidified, when several Indian entrepreneurs began incorporating them into their own ideas, coming out with fond Indian QSR concepts.

India’s own Jumboking has added a novel dimension to the humble vada pav — Mumbai’s street food favourite. “We were constantly straddled between fighting a low-price perception of the product and convincing customers that a vada pav can be made in a world-class kitchen; however, they would need to pay for that world-class technology. We also had to fend off competition from the larger burger brands trying to reduce their prices to appeal to the masses and drive their own customer counts,” Jumboking MD Dheeraj Gupta says.

However, explaining the impact of world technologies on QSR functioning, Gupta adds, “We are fortunate to have global brands operating in India today, which are using systems and processes which have been perfected in the West over decades. While they benefit from the learnings of their parent companies, we at Jumboking have benefitted a lot by learning from them. It has saved us time as we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We learn from the best practises from various players, understanding, adapting and applying these learnings on our product.”

Meanwhile, another international  brand, with the objective of democratising the pizza experience in the country, has aggressively strengthened its presence.

Over the years, Domino’s Pizza  has rolled out innovative products and campaigns to make pizzas an essential part of the lives of Indians. The brand has also made strategic investments towards strengthening supply chain, bolstering the technology infrastructure and creating a network of employees to ensure that consumers get the best quality and the most hygienic products.

The QSR trend is one among the many foody goodies readying themselves to be served on the Indian dining table. A strong digital presence and customer engagement by companies have dedicated a lot of time and money to improving their engagement strategies. Also, the transformation in Indian consumer lifestyles over the years has tremendously helped the IEO industry to grow and expand. Indian consumers are increasingly spending large sums, eating out with family and friends on weekends and holidays, churning up a huge appetite for the QSR business. So, clearly, the food retail industry in the country is poised for exponential growth. More than anything, the ‘International-Indian’ fusion fun fare is adding more joy to an already rich Indian palate.

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