Benita Chacko

Can biryani lead India’s march to create a global restaurant chain business?

The burst of food delivery platforms and cloud kitchens have created an opportunity for brands to launch national chains of the rice speciality. Can they now establish their presence internationally?

The royal biryani, for the last seven years, has not only given the burgers and the pizzas a tough fight, but trounced them to become the most ordered dish on Zomato and Swiggy. Data from these food aggregator and delivery platforms has revealed, year after year, the exalted status biryani enjoys in the country. As this food category sees a flavourful burst of brands, it brings with it aspirations to make this dish India’s gift to the global palette.

Food remains one of the most influential tools when it comes to exercising soft power. Global food chains are an excellent source of soft power. McDonald’s is an example of American soft power and Tim Hortons does the same for Canada. 

India, which recently saw its food being rated the fifth-most liked cuisine in the world by TasteAtlas, a guide for local food, is yet to make its mark in this aspect. Can Biryani be that dish from India that can take on these western fast foods on a global level? 

While the rice delicacy has been savoured in the country for centuries, there wasn’t any nationwide leader in this category. The recent spurt of food delivery platforms and the emergence of cloud kitchens created an opportunity. 

Brands like Rebel Foods’ Behrouz,  Biryani by Kilo, Jubilant FoodWorks’ Ekdum and Biryani Blues saw an opportunity here to create a pan-India chain. More recently, Tibb’s Frankie ventured into the category with Biryani Tadka. The 53-year-old Frankie chain has launched Biryani in Mumbai currently but will soon be delivering in other cities. In the next year, it aims to sell close to a million boxes and make it one fourth of its total business. 

Consumers were seeking more meal options. Secondly, biryani is the highest selling category online. It can be eaten at home or on the go,” says Harpreet Tibb. 

Some of these brands now harbour desires to expand internationally à la McDonalds or Domino’s Pizza. 

Not only does the dish have a wide appeal, but by nature biryani is a delivery-friendly product. It’s a one-pot meal that is easy to pack and deliver. As compared to the international fast food products, it is relatively less unhealthy. It can also be heated and eaten the next day. 

Vishal Jindal
Vishal Jindal

These were some of the factors that urged Vishal Jindal, CEO and co-founder, Biryani by Kilo, to launch the chain. “There was also a personal reason here- I had lived abroad and it used to hurt me to see that there was no F&B chain from India on the likes of Chipotle, McDonalds and the others,” he says.

In the second half of 2023, Biryani by Kilo intends to foray into the international market and will launch in the Middle East. 

Pragati Dalal
Pragati Dalal

Behrouz Biryani has already marked its presence in UAE and the UK. Pragati Dalal, vice president- brands at Rebel Foods, says along with securing international presence, the growth of the biryani as a category will also depend on deep personalisation and automation. 

“With the use of AI, brands can make it more customer-first. Development of many tech-first products in kitchens that allows customers to customise their biryani as per their taste will be a milestone for the category,” she says. 

A key challenge for these restaurant chains is to maintain consistency across all their outlets. Many brands address this challenge through automation and stringent processes.

Dalal says, Behrouz follows a process called Every Day Great Execution (EDGE) in four parts - Customer Feedback, Customer Delight, Internal Audits, and Safety Precautions.

“For us, consistency in biryanis is vital, across geographies. However, cooking instructions might change in the UK or other countries based on the preferences there. Within India, the taste remains constant. A biryani in New Delhi will taste similar in Mumbai and Bangalore. This has been made possible by following EDGE. Adherence to this process has allowed us to create a premium experience not only in our culinary but also in our packaging and delivery,” she says.

However, unlike the other global dishes like burgers and pizza, biryani is not a fast food. On the contrary, traditionally the dish has been cooked slowly. How will it then compete in the quick service restaurant (QSR) category?

“The Q might be missing, but it is still a great category for delivery. And it is growing very fast. It will soon become the next big export,” Jindal says.

Kalyan Karmakar
Kalyan Karmakar

Kalyan Karmakar, a leading brand consultant and blogger at Finely Chopped Consulting, does not see the potential in Biryani to compete with the international fast food. 

“Biryani is not really geared for that. It is not fast food. One needs to use their fingers to eat it and it is oily. Burgers and pizzas are something people eat at any time of the day. But biryani is more of a meal. From a delivery point of view it doesn't have the potential to become an equivalent of a pizza or a burger chain. Maybe it can do it with dine-in,” he says. 

Within India also these brands face several challenges. Jindal says for most Indian companies the challenge was that they didn’t know how to create businesses at scale. “The systems, processes and right professional management were missing in brand creation. We were able to do that,” he adds. 

According to estimates, the organised biryani market (the restaurants with an FSSAI license)  is about Rs 6,000 crore. This includes Standalone Licensed stores (70%), National Chain Restaurants (22.5%) and others. The unorganised sector is expected to have a similar value. 

Every city has its popular legacy Biryani chains. Whether it is Paradise in Hyderabad or Jaffer Bhai’s in Mumbai, their tastes and flavours are entrenched in the consumer’s minds. As these branded biryani chains expand across the country, how do they compete with these chains?

Jindal says Biryani by Kilo aspires to get a 20-25% market share. “It's not a winner takes all market. We are in 45 cities and are leading in 25-30 cities. We know that we can’t unseat the local players who have been there for years. But nobody has the bandwidth to be in 40-50 cities or have 100 plus outlets,” he explains.

Dalal says biryani has largely been a part of the unorganised food sector, where regional and single shop restaurants offer biryani at affordable prices. “The margins are wafer-thin but low prices ensure higher volumes and faster churn. These restaurants offer a limited variety, typically catering to the taste of the locality. However, there is no consistency in taste or quality and often operate in questionable hygienic conditions. They tend to plug for the local market needs but without any desire or emotions,” she says. 

Karmakar says that these food chains have an advantage over some of the local places. “There's standardisation and an assurance of quality. The local places might not have the ambience where people may want to sit and eat,” he says.

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