Global fast food chains conquering Indian palate

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View of a typical McDonald’s restaurant in India. Photo – University of Southern California

?Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are. ~ Anthalme Brillant Savarin

Just when the world woke up to the delights of Epicurean experience, and the health benefits of going Organic, food trends in Indian subcontinent have taken ‘Reverse Osmosis’ path. The global fast food culture has not just seeped into Indian gastronomical imagination but has also emerged as an urban way of life.

With the advent of globalisation and resurgence of corporate workforce, the Indian urban socio-economic scenario has undergone drastic changes at multitude of levels. From sedentary lifestyles to busy schedules, joint-family systems to nuclear families, independent houses to apartments, and home-made food to fast food, average Indians have finally come of age and initiated into the global standardisation of a modern lifestyle.

The fast food retail chain penetration into the Indian market has been a slow but significant one. KFC, Dominos, McDonalds, Subway and the likes have had a long drawn battle to sustain Indian markets but their perseverance paid off well. Preservation of culture is prime in the minds of Indians and anything foreign is subject to intense scrutiny and resistance. Add to that, the politicisation of foreign brand invasion as colonisation in the minds of masses. The logistics needed to overcome the Indian socio-political and cultural dilemma was indeed a herculean task for the multinational fast food companies.

Initially, the foreign brands found it tough to cater to Indian tastes and had to innovate and reinvent their offerings to appeal the Indian sentiments. Unlike other markets, where brands like KFC, McDonalds, Dominos etc. are famous for their meticulous consistency and Nazi-esque standardisation, India was a different ball game altogether. They had to customise their la carte, position their products and advertise in such a way that it would tempt the subliminal psyche of the average Indian customer, to compete with local fast food/street food, as well as the elaborate meals of Indian Homes.

And succeed they did! McD’s had options for both non-vegetarians and vegetarian consumers. They substituted beef and pork with mutton, keeping in mind the religious sentiments of both Hindus and Muslims. Names like Mc Aloo and Maharaja Mac became a rage with urban teenie boppers. Dominos and Pizza Hut, on the other hand, added a variety of local flavours to their pizzas e.g. Paneer Makhni to Chicken Tikka. Though KFC initially refused to alter its international taste, it had to concede after mounting evidence of customer dissatisfaction. Colonel Sanders reinvented its piece de resistance with hot & crispy chicken to tickle and capture the fiery Indian taste buds.

The rest, as they say, is history. The fast food industry in India is growing at an accelerated rate right now. According to the recent market analysis, Indian fast food industry is expected to grow at about 34% during 2011-2014. Estimates suggest Indians are spending a whopping 1.3 billion on eating out and out of that 40 million was at multinational fast food restaurants. Encouraged by the growth prospects, the global fast food companies are mushrooming in country’s major cities and also making inroads in small cities as well.

Thus, the ‘Land of Dosas and Vada Paavs’ is witnessing a food revolution or final colonisation, as some critics suggest, of the ethnic palates. While many people are appreciating the fact that an average Indian has opened his heart and mind to the amazing gastronomical world outside his own, others are wondering how good a thing that is, considering the health benefits of replacing time-tested traditional food with undependable fast food. Only time can tell…

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