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Hot and Cold Essay

Since time immemorial, Indians have been bombarded with snacks-to-go by street vendors; fastfood is neither a modern phenomenon, nor a western innovation. But as increasing numbers of international players enter the domestic market, there are bitter lessons to learn about what local consumers will and will not welcome. just-food.com’s Debasish Ganguly reports from India on the evolving sector and the challenges facing new entrants into the fastfood market.

Fastfood is not an alien concept to Indians; roadside shops have offered snacks-to-go since time immemorial and the country has a long tradition of indigenous fastfood served by a variety of street vendors. Whether the southern ‘Dosas’ or the ‘Phulkas’ in the north, the ‘Vada’, ‘Samosas’ or ‘Bhelpuri’, this inexpensive cuisine is still going strong, and street selling is a low-cost method of food distribution.

However, since the arrival of established fastfood chains such as McDonald’s, marketing savvy and dollar power have given fastfood a very western orientation. The weekend stampedes outside any McDonalds restaurant are standing testimony to this fact.

But the burger behemoths still have a long way to go. Local fastfood is not easily undermined by these interlopers, since methods of mass production have not been perfected and, in any case, they would have to compete with low cost ‘artisan’ production. On the other hand, the reality is that established local fastfood chains, like Nirulas, Wimpys or Haldiram, are sensing competition by the growing popularity of McDonald’s and other international chains. Though Nirulas does not admit to any drop in sales overtly, industry sources reveal that they have lost 18% of their original market share.

So far, the fastfood chains have gained their popularity among the major metropolitan cities of India and some smaller cities, such as Pune or Baroda. Before the arrival of these fastfood chains, Nirulas was the market leaderin Delhi. In fact, Nirulas taught Delhi-dwellers what pizzas and burgers were all about. Nirulas was commanding a monopoly until western chains arrived in India.


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