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Fast Seafood

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A new food service concept has hit Mumbai – that for fast seafood. , a part of the , has five outlets currently in the city but is planning aggressive expansion in other parts of India through the franchising model. Shanti padukone explores the chain which distinguishes itself from other with the freshness of its seafood which is snap frozen the moment it is caught at sea.

The Westcoast Group is probably one of the biggest exporters of seafood in India. Over the past two years, it has ventured into retail with a wide range of frozen seafood available at several supermarkets. Yet another of its venture comes in the form of Fisheteria, a concept that combines seafood and fast food to offer the customer a scrumptious meal with value for money.

Fisheteria is the brainchild of Shivam Gupta, a 21-year-old entrepreneur who is also the director of Westcoast Group and the son of the founder of the company. Having completed his undergraduate studies in London, Gupta returned to India in July 2012 and was all set to join his father’s business. However, working in operations didn’t seem very appealing to him. “What I was intrigued by was retail and the aspect of dealing with customers on a regular basis, delivering consistency and quality,” he says passionately.

Thus was born Fisheteria. Gupta had always been privy to the high quality that was being handled by the Westcoast Group in seafood, and he wanted to bring the same to the masses. Moreover, he realised that the seafood eating culture in India involves either eating at restaurants that specialise in seafood, where the average ticket size can be as much as Rs 1,000, or at a 5-star hotel. Otherwise, one has to visit the fish market to buy “fresh” seafood. There is no place where you can go to have good seafood in a value-for-money format.

Gupta says what most people don’t realise is that what they call fresh fish has been caught 48 to 72 hours before being sold. All this while, the fish rots because it’s dead and not frozen, which is why the fish markets stink. However, at Fisheteria, the fish is caught and snap frozen to preserve the meat. “I believe the food industry is now ready to understand the difference. The idea is to make seafood more accessible to everyone.”

The Format

Fisheteria was started in October 2012 in Mumbai at four malls — , Malad; Mall, Malad; Mall, Andheri; and R Mall, Ghatkopar. The start-up format is a food court, which is a combination of kiosks and a back kitchen shop.

The QSR format was the natural choice for Fishteria for several reasons, according to Gupta. There is no set up like Fisheteria in India as yet, so it was difficult to conduct . Hence, it was a huge risk. However, the QSR format in malls and kiosks doesn’t require much investment of time or money. “I wanted to test the waters, see how people reacted and then decide if the concept will work or not. I didn’t want to waste my efforts in something we have no idea about,” says Gupta.

Similar to the trend of hot dog carts, ice-cream trucks, and falafel carts, Gupta also plans to start mobile trucks selling fast seafood at specific places in Mumbai to target the corporate and college crowd. “However, we have met a barrier since no such concept has been done in India before. As a result, the authorities too aren’t aware of the permissions involved; there is no law for or against it. We are still working out the finer details; but once that’s sorted out, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” he explains.

Investments and Set Up

Fisheteria has two models under the QSR format: (i) An 8*8 space where everything is cooked in front of the customer and there is no back kitchen, and (ii) a food court model that includes a back kitchen. In both, a freezer, deep fat fryer and a griller-cum-hot plate are a must. The vegetables, marination and sauces are prepped earlier in the day at the central kitchen and sent to the various outlets.

Gupta says he has not really worked out the financials yet, since the company is still in the investment mode, but the major cost is rent. He explains: “My rule of thumb is that I have to make four times my rent to break even. This is because my food cost is extremely high at 50 percent since it’s seafood. So out of Rs 60 that a customer pays for a fish roll, Rs 30 is the food cost alone. The rest of the money goes into branding, printing, packaging, and salaries.” So he tries to make a killing on the cold drinks, which offer a considerable margin. Moreover, some products are priced higher than others, such as the prawn burger which costs Rs 125 and turns a tidy profit. However, the fast-moving products are priced lower since customers need an added incentive to order those. Gupta expects a RoI within six months of setting up shop.

On the Menu

Fisheteria has a small but wholesome menu. It offers prawn burgers, fish burgers, prawn torpedoes, fish fingers, grilled fish, prawn skewers, fish and chips, prawn rolls, fish rolls, prawn crackers and three dips called Thousand Island, Cambay Dip, and Sweet Chilli Sauce. For a meal, a customer can add a lemonade and prawn crackers to any order for just Rs 50 additional charge. The fish items cost Rs 60–100; the prawn items Rs 80–120.

Interestingly, the menu hasn’t been tweaked to suit the Indian palate. European dishes have been kept authentic. The prawns are procured from Westcoast’s own farm in Gujarat, the fish is Basa, imported from Vietnam, and the frozen parathas are from a Malaysian company called Kawan. The paratha rolls move the quickest. Gupta feels this is because no butter or oil is used to heat them and the filling is something that Indians can relate to — masala, spice, onions and a lot of flavour.

Customer Response

Gupta seems to have succeeded in his efforts to develop an of Indian customers for fast seafood, He says: “The breakthrough is that people are loving the food. They come here, eat the food, realise its quality, and love the flavours. Seafood has always been a part of the cuisine in Mumbai, but only for the locals. I now want to develop this as a city-wide culture.” Another huge risk with seafood is the quality, but Gupta says no one has complained about the quality yet and customers appreciate the value for money that Fishteria provides.

Challenges Galore

One of the challenges in setting up the concept of fast seafood was the fact there was no prior market research. Another was that the company had to invest its own money as no one was ready to back the chain. “We also faced a problem in keeping the menu strictly to seafood. Several people suggested that we should add vegetarian dishes too. But I refused,” says Gupta who considers himself lucky in having a sound back-end and supply infrastructure because of the parent company.

Customer Engagement

The first step towards customer engagement for Gupta was to decided on the brand name and colours. The very name “Fisheteria” helps a person associate the chain with seafood and cafeteria. The brand colours convey the concept of fresh food. Red stands for hot cooked food while blue depicts seafood. The tag line – “Taste Real Freshness” – is a take on the nature of freshly frozen meat.

Gupta says: “There’s a difference between frozen and freshly frozen. Our products are snap frozen. In this, a freshly caught product is put through one end of a quick freezer and it comes out frozen at the other end within minutes. This preserves the meat perfectly by creating a frozen crust around it.”

Fisheteria also has festive offers around major festivals. Apart from this, Gupta is an avid horse rider and has set up a small Fishteria kiosk at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai for the Derby season. There, he sells six different kinds of fish rolls with European flavours, and people love it. “All this is very encouraging. From this, I get an idea that whatever flavour we use, Indian or international, it appeals to the masses,” says Gupta.

Staff Training

Fisheteria has five outlets today, which together consist of 65 counter staff, 2 area managers, and 1 chef who is responsible for the menu. All the products sold at Fishteria are prepared in advance by the chef. All that the front staff has to do is heat the paratha on a tawa, assemble the meat, veggies and sauces, and serve the dish to customers.

For deep-fried dishes, the staff is directed by the chef on the appropriate temperature and timing. A lot of effort goes into training the staff in appropriate behaviour and knowledge of food. “The counter staff need to be friendly and know the dishes well. We take them to the factory and explain the products. They are also aware of the different types of sauces we use and can chat up the customer,” says Gupta.

Future Plans

Gupta’s immediate plan is to surge ahead with mobile trucks and sit-down restaurants. For the latter, he plans to go along with the fast-food restaurant model, complete with trays, mats and butter-paper packaging. These will have more items on the menu to make the experience wholesome, though the quantity and price will be slightly higher.

He is also looking at franchise options, including master franchisees. Fisheteria will invest its own money only in Mumbai. For any other city, Gupta will expand only through the franchise model. “We have received lot of enquiries from North India. Franchising is the safest model; our only investment is in the central kitchen and food. The franchisee must have expertise in food and knowledge of the local market and the city,” concludes Gupta.