Fast food industry on fast track

New Delhi: Constantly experimenting with the tastes of consumers by mixing western and `desi` menus, fast food industry has seen a rapid growth in last few years, thanks to high disposable incomes and greater exposure to multiple cuisines.

A lot of Indians are traveling abroad experiencing changes in lifestyle and are keen on experimenting with food, say experts.

"Our comparable sales in metros have been nearly 20 per cent in 2010 and as the fast food market continues to expand across the country and across various consumer segments, there is tremendous scope for expansion," says Vikram Bakshi, MD, McDonald?s India (North & East), adding that they are targeting to open around 40 plus stores in the country soon.

McDonald`s made its India debut in 1996 with one outlet at Basant LoK in Delhi and at present, it has 211 restaurants of which 105 are in North & East India and 106 in West & South India.

Apart from metros, McDonald`s is fast reaching rural areas as well, as there are 14 outlets in Haryana, 11 in Punjab and 28 in Uttar Pradesh.

"With ever increasing pool of working population, nuclear families and a progressive middle class, the demand for fast food already on the rise will see a tremendous growth in future also," says Ritu Chaudhri, VP Marketing, Nirula?s.

Nirula?s has 80 outlets (company owned and franchised) in 7 cities across Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab and are planning to open 70 more till 2012.

The move to `localise` the fast food tastes has paid rich dividends and increased brand loyal customer base for the companies.

Pizza Hut is known to introduce Indianised version of pizzas to attract the local customer base."We launched products like Karahi Paneer, Teekha Paneer and Karahi Chicken long time ago and it was a complete success. Soon, you will see more of such products," says Umesh Kumar, Manager, Pizza Hut, CP.

Bakshi says the age old saying of `when in Rome, do as the Romans do` holds the USP. "Keeping in view the strong liking of north Indians towards spicy stuff, we had to introduce in our menu dishes like McAloo Tikki Burger, Pizza McPuff, McVeggie," he says.

To reposition itself as the preferred choice for young adults, Nirula`s also launched its Desimania campaign.

"For our Desimania campaign last year, we had launched a new range of western fast food with a Unique `Desi` Twist.

The menu included a tempting new variety of teekha pizzas, chatpata burgers, refreshing beverages and some uniquely desi sundaes which became very popular with our customers," says Chaudhri.

The consumer spending on processed food has increased at an average rate of 7.6 per cent annually from 2008 to 2010 and this is expected to rise at an average of around 8.6 per cent until 2012, according to a report by ASSOCHAM.

The report indicates a major shift in food habits in metropolitan cities with about 86 per cent of respondent households preferring to have instant food due to steep rise in dual-income levels, standard of living, convenience and influence of Western countries.

Mona Sharma, a 24-year-old BPO employee, says, due to odd working hours and work pressure it is very difficult to get out and eat. "We normally place group orders from our office to outlets which serve `ready to eat` food like burger and pizzas. It saves our working time," she says.

Trying to reach to customers even when they are travelling, fast food chains have opened their outlets on a variety of locations including highways, malls, airports and metro stations.

"We have breakfast menu, extended hours, drive thrus, highway way stores, and dessert kiosk…which are addressing customer needs during different parts of the day," says Bakshi of McDonald`s.

On the same lines, Nirula`s has launched new retail formats like Express outlets, Ice cream parlours, Metro station kiosks and fuel station outlets. "This expansion has widened our reach and allowed us to expand out customer base significantly," says Chaudhri.