In recent years, India has become a high-priority market for the global food service industry. In the past few months alone, marquee International brands like Burger King, Wendy’s, Carl’s Junior, etc. have pitched their tents in the country. These new brands are now devising rapid expansion plans to match the might of established Goliaths like Domino’s, McDonald’s and Subway. For instance, Carl’s Jr., which entered India late last year and runs two outlets currently, plans to increase its store count to 100 over the next five years. Such ambitious gambits will dramatically accelerate the growth of the foodservice industry in general and the QSR and café segment in particular.
The size of the Indian food service market (organised and unorganised) is currently pegged at Rs. 2, 72,700 crore. It is projected to grow to Rs. 4, 23,100 crore by 2020 at a CAGR of 8 per cent, according to Technopak estimates. The organised restaurant segment is estimated at Rs. 78,900 crore (29 per cent of the overall market) and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11 per cent to reach INR 1, 44,900 crore by 2020. Café and QSRs in the organised segment will grow the fastest at a CAGR of ~11 per cent and ~14 per cent respectively, according to the projections.
Indian entrepreneurs in the F&B sector have by and large dominated the unorganised space. All the while foreign players have ruled the roost and continue to sow their oats in the organised segment, cementing and entrenching their position further. True, there are instances of Indian restaurant chains such as Café Coffee Day, Barista, Sagar Ratna, among others, which were able to script a success story in organised F&B, à la their foreign peers. But such examples are few and far between and it would be a great leap of faith to imagine Indian F&B players dominating the industry in the way they have carved their reputation in sectors such as IT.
No doubt that the industry projections are salivating enough to make foreign chains drool over business prospects in India. But the chutzpah is missing and action is markedly muted in the Indian camp. Even the once rocking food-tech sector, galvanised by the likes of Zomato and Fassos, is just about managing to keep its chin up. And most of the established Indian food service players are keeping their cards close to the chest, in what could be construed as a sign of guarded optimism at best.
What can explain this deference and docility on the part of Indian players? There’s also the larger question: Why is it that despite Indian food being popular in many countries, no Indian chain has been able to achieve even a modicum of scale that foreign QSRs have accomplished so effortlessly?
According to trade pundits, as the industry opportunity grows and enlarges, it is certain that more Indian entrepreneurs will start getting into organised restaurant chains. Many of them are of the view that the overall revolution, wherein big investors have faith in Indian food entrepreneurs to generate good returns, is just begun and marks the start of the globalisation of Indian-owned restaurants. “We now have the expertise to standardise the benchmarks and achieve sustainable market growth. Hence it is just a matter of time when one of the local restaurants treads the path to big chain growth that goes beyond national frontiers,” feels celebrated chef Kunal Kapur.
However, there is a school of thought which believes that there are several things that need to fall into place before such growth is possible even for the expansion-minded Indian food service entrepreneurs. Things like having consistent recipes, optimised equipment, best practices, negotiated rates from suppliers and vendors, consistent delivery of ingredients, packaging, and other things.
“What foreign QSR and, in a large majority, US-based QSRs are good at is building their standalone restaurants to a level that they are not just serving good food and providing good service but also have been able to reach a level that they are in a ‘franchise-ready’ state. I’m not necessarily alluding to franchising but to a state of being ready to replicate,” avers Executive Director, Carl’s Jr. India, Sana Chopra, which has drawn up plans to replicate and multiply to 100 outlets over the next five years.
With food service in India headed for steadfast growth in the years to come, the time may be just ripe for Indian F&B players to pursue growth. And not just a secondary activity but as a rewarding vertical within the organisation itself. By setting up the right SOPs, having an engaged team, being proactive in marketing and searching for leads, there is a fair chance that they can succeed in tapping into both organic and inorganic growth, besides making their brands aspirational enough to bring it to other markets.