Devesh Gupta & Rashmi Menon

Vegetarian Secrets

A McD outlet in Vaishno Devi. A veg-only KFC outlet in Gujarat. A Snickers bar for vegetarians. International brands will do just about anything to find their way into Indian hearts.

Restaurateurs often say 'Patrons don't eat what you serve. You serve them what they want to eat.' This whole 'tweak or perish' maxim is something those in the food business have come to swear by. As an eatery or foreign franchise owner, if you don't alter your menu as per the local palate, you may as well get ready to shut shop. This rule becomes even more sacrosanct in the Indian context, where a large part of the population is vegetarian.

Vegetarian Secrets
Vegetarian Secrets
Vegetarian Secrets
Vegetarian Secrets
Vegetarian Secrets
Vegetarian Secrets
While chocolate brand Snickers recently launched its fully vegetarian bar in India, several multinational quick service chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Dominos and Pizza Hut have been busy adding vegetarian dishes to their menus and opening 'exclusive vegetarian' outlets. Today, a larger part of the revenue for these chains comes from their vegetarian menus.

Interestingly, back home, and in other overseas markets, these US-based chains garner most of their revenues from their non-vegetarian (or meat-based) items. Vegetarian dishes form barely 10-15 per cent of their menus, catering to just 3 per cent of the US population. The Indian scenario, on the other hand, is completely opposite; between 30-40 per cent of the country's total population is vegetarian.

The writing on the wall is clear: if you have to sell food products in India, then it has to be done the Indian way.

When these multinational eatery chains entered India nearly two decades ago, they quickly adapted themselves to suit Indian tastes. The major task ahead of them then was to create an acceptance of their product among the masses and establish a smooth supply chain. Through a series of marketing campaigns, they achieved this task and the challenge they face now is to bring more innovations to their menus and attract more walk-ins.

Some of the better known Indian innovations are Peppy Paneer (Dominos), McAloo Tikki Burger (McDonalds), Veggie Delite (Subway) and Veg Zinger (KFC).

Dominos, a renowned pizza brand with over 500 outlets, entered India 17 years ago. Today it earns more than 50 per cent of its revenue from its vegetarian menu. Harneet Singh, vice-president, marketing, Domino's Pizza India, says, "The strategy is very clear; launch those products that go well with the taste buds of locals. We have tweaked our international products to suit the Indian styles. Peppy Panner is a classic example as we have used cheese (paneer) in a manner liked by Indians."

Though KFC (originally Kentucky Fried Chicken) is synonymous with chicken, the brand is apparently increasing its focus on its vegetarian items. The brand aims to increase its vegetarian portfolio and consequently, its revenues. Similarly, Pizza Hut, sister offshoot of KFC, has a menu that is nearly 60 per cent vegetarian.

When it comes to the Indian market, most of these global eatery chains follow suit with more than 50 per cent of their respective menus being vegetarian. Apparently, their revenues in India are directly proportional to these efforts.

There's more to it

Simply tweaking their menus to include more vegetarian options was not enough for these eatery chains. They wanted more.

Many of them are opening completely vegetarian stores in different places across the country, especially geographies where a strong vegetarian demographic is present. Dominos has 11 such stores, Pizza Hut has three and KFC has one. Subway too falls under the same category. Moreover, McDonalds has announced the imminent launch of more such 'all-veg' outlets in Amritsar and Vaishno Devi.

In a recent development, chocolate brand Snickers from Mars International India has announced its latest offering, a vegetarian chocolate bar for India's vegetarian population. The move is an attempt to make its product more inclusive.

MV Natrajan, MD, chocolate business, Mars International India, says, "The vegetarian Snickers is basically targeted at nearly one third of the population including large pockets of vegetarians such as those in Gujarat. It was the need of the Indian consumer. The idea is to make sure all consumers get to taste our product." In fact, some of these stores are in Gujarat, Shirdi, Amritsar and other such pilgrim-friendly places.

Singh of Domino's adds that the brand launches its vegetarian stores on the back of two simple ideas: firstly, at a holy place, people's affinity towards eating non-vegetarian food is less because of their religious duties and sentiments. "Secondly," he says, "If our research states that in a particular catchment the veg-eating population is extremely high then perhaps it is logical to come up with a vegetarian restaurant there."

On the subject, Sandeep Kataria, brand general manger and CMO, Pizza Hut, adds, "We understand the needs and tastes of Indian customers. We have a special Jain menu served in our vegetarian restaurants which includes special pizzas and breads. Over and above the non-vegetarian menu, we have an extensive variety of options for appetizers, pastas, as well as pizzas for our vegetarian consumers. The launch of these stores is spurred by sensitivity and sensibility towards our customers."

The eatery brands are known to put in a lot of effort into innovations for their menus. Most have set up research departments and each product passes through various levels of testing before making it to the menu. Factors such as production capability and regional affinity also form an important part of the innovation process.

Subway has more than 350 outlets, McDonalds has more than 300 outlets and KFC has 223 outlets in India.