From launching a gourmet range of burgers for its 25th anniversary to introducing healthy beverages to the brand's four growth phases, a sit-down with McDonald's India's director of marketing.
1996 was a year of notable firsts.
The Spice Girls released their first album ‘Spice’. Sports legends Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal made their debuts in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Hubble Space Telescope took the first photograph of Pluto’s surface. Each of these were memorable in their own right.
It was also the year when global fast food giant McDonald’s started its love affair with India, by opening two outlets, one at Delhi’s Basant Lok and the another at Mumbai’s Bandra. A quarter of a century later, the affair has blossomed into true love. And, what better way to renew your
vows love, on such a special occasion, than reinvent that very thing which made India fall in love with you - burgers.
For its 25th anniversary, McDonald’s India has released a new line of gourmet burgers. “We said that we need to double down on burgers and take the proposition a notch higher,” says Arvind RP, director of marketing and communication, McDonald’s India (South and West).
This new range of burgers, as per a press release issued by the brand, “consists of unique and generously sized, scrumptious burgers with signature McDonald’s touches.” So, what makes this new selection of burgers a gourmet affair? Well, it is the exotic patties, ingredients and sauces that they contain. The range is a mix of delectable cheesy indulgences and spicy delights.
Launching a new food item is hard enough, but (launching) a new line of burgers must have taken quite some effort. Says Arvind, “Over the last two years, meals like lunch and dinner have become the most important occasions for the consumers… We were keen to launch something filling and indulgent and had a plan to get a greater share of these meals.”
“For us, it's now all about burger, chicken and coffee leadership. These three pillars will drive the next wave of growth.”Arvind RP
What about the popular Maharaja Mac? Well, it is not going anywhere, and the gourmet range will complement it.
When asked where McDonald’s gets its insights from, Arvind was quick to point to formal research, “where we track occasions, or use cases as we call it. The key approach has always been to look out for newer opportunities.”
It was this research that made the brand launch two new beverages - Turmeric Latte and Masala Kadak Chai.
McDonald’s India also invests in social listening. The brand, through this research exercise, came to know that the consumers were looking for something very indulgent and filling. "So, we came up with the brief (gourmet range)," reveals Arvind.
As McDonald’s launched the two beverages based on formal research, how much pressure does the brand face to dole out stuff that is tasty and healthy? Arvind was quick to point at McDonald’s ‘Golden Guarantee’ campaign from last year (2020) that highlighted its trust, safety and hygiene processes.
“Immunity was something that the consumers were looking for... These two beverages are relevant in today's context and in the broad context of how the brand handled consumer expectations over the last year,” Arvind remarks.
Continuing with beverages, the McCafé brand of the quick service restaurant (QSR) is seeing good business now that offices have started reopening. (McDonald’s itself has reopened its offices.) The orders for cold coffee and cappuccinos are on the rise, but the same can’t be said about its breakfast menu, which has been shut for a while due to COVID. It was earlier available only from 7-11 a.m.
The brand now plans to bring its breakfast menu back over the new few months at select stores. “At the end of the day, when you want to normalise your life, you want to go back to the rituals you had. We're cognizant of that,” mentions Arvind.
Order Direct from McDonald’s?
The ‘Order Direct’ campaign urges the consumers to place their orders directly from the restaurant (McDelivery in this case) than food delivery. Due to last year’s COVID-induced lockdown(s), food delivery giants like Swiggy and Zomato have now become quite popular.
But, restaurants have complained of these giants charging higher commissions and leaving the restaurants with miniscule profits. We wanted the director of marketing's take on this issue.
Says Arvind, “Our approach on delivery has been to focus on all the channels that are relevant for the consumers.” McDonald’s isn’t averse to other platforms. “We keep our eye on all emerging platforms once we see good consumer traction.”
The changing face of QSR
McDonald’s was once the favourite eating joint of college kids for its affordable ‘Happy Price Menu’. In fact, I have spent more time at the Andheri station McDonald’s outlet during XI and XII standards, than when I was at college.
The outlet was flooded with people, especially in the afternoon. I don’t see it happening today. The pandemic has changed everything, especially the QSR dine-in culture.
On the future, Arvind says, “There are many waves of growth.” He talks about the time when global brands were launching in India and the need of the hour was to be relevant, in terms of food.
McAloo Tikki, McVeggie, and Veg Maharaja Mac (only in India does the Mac offer a vegetarian as well as a meat version) are some localised items that the brand has launched in India. “That was wave one, where a lot of the menu was made from an Indian palate perspective, to be locally relevant for the consumers.”
Wave two, as per Arvind, was to penetrate the market and introduce it to newer audiences. “The ‘Happy Price Menu’ was one such platform. We tried to make the brand relevant to newer audiences.”
If localised food items and market penetration defined the first two waves, the third wave of growth is about store modernisation. “We invested a lot on EOTF (experience of the future), making our stores future-forward because the consumers were looking for modern retail experiences... self-ordering kiosks being one such example.”
Wave four is all about what we’re doing today. Arvind refers to the McDonald’s new fried chicken offering and its campaign that’s now live in South India. “For us, it's now all about burger, chicken and coffee leadership. These three pillars will drive the next wave of growth.”
These waves are all about evolving with the times. McDonald’s wants to be a brand ahead of the consumers.
As times change, so do your rivals. From Burger King and Wendy’s to pizza chains to biryani cloud kitchens to home chefs delivering to homes, etc.
Arvind isn’t worried, but is rather pleased about it. Why? Because it means that the consumers are exposed to more flavours and cuisines.
But how does McDonald’s stand out? We aren’t seeing any big campaigns from the brand, similar to CRED during the Indian Premier League (IPL) that got everyone talking. Says Arvind, “You will see a whole lot of campaigns around the burger, chicken and coffee initiatives once we roll them out. And, they'll definitely be big campaigns.”
Speaking of campaigns, will we ever see a McDonald’s ad lampooning Burger King? It seems unlikely. “While some brands focus on other brands, you will find us focusing on the consumers,” mentions Arvind.
When asked about plant-based meat offerings in India (McDonald’s US will test the McPlant in November), Arvind says, “It is an emerging trend and we are keeping watch on it. It's too nascent and early for me to comment on it."
Hardcastle Restaurants Pvt. Ltd. (HRPL) owns & operates McDonald’s restaurants across West and South India and is a direct subsidiary of Westlife Development Limited (WDL). Sanjeev Agarwal's MMG Group runs the McDonald's franchise in the North and the East.
McCafe photo credit: Erik Mclean on Unsplash
Delivery person photo credit: Erik Mclean from Pexels