Can late-entrant Burger King win the burger battle in India?

US fast-food giant, Burger King, launched in Mumbai on November 22 after biting into the Indian market share for the first time on November 9 with its maiden outlet in New Delhi. We checked out the burger joint in Goregaon to find out if the late entrant can conquer its competitors in India's fast-food scene

It was Monday afternoon. The food court of Oberoi Mall in Goregaon was abuzz with folks enjoying their meal. I chose a relatively quiet spot for my interaction with Uma Talreja, the chief marketing officer of Burger King India. We were barely done introducing ourselves when I heard loud chants from behind that silenced the crowd.

I panicked. I turned around. I smiled.

The staff of Burger King had started singing their anthem. It's an hourly ritual, I was told. Though I couldn't catch the exact words, I could catch their enthusiasm.

Burger King
US fast-food giant Burger King launched its maiden outlet in Mumbai on November 22. Pics/Veda Ramaswamy

Late entrant

Why join the party now when its biggest rival, McDonald's, entered India almost two decades ago?

"India was always part of our growth plan. We were waiting to find the right partner," says Uma.

It is only in 2013 that the burger chain found its match in Everstone Capital Management, a group with pan-India presence in restaurant business. "Everstone helped us identify prime locations with high footfall for our outlets," Uma asserts.

On being asked about choosing Oberoi Mall as the location for Mumbai's first outlet, Uma says, "Our research showed not only was the business doing well here over weekends, but also on weekdays."

Burger battle heats up

With McDonald's and KFC having found a strong foothold in India, how does Burger King plan to carve a niche for itself in this competitive market?

"Our competition is with different cuisines and not different players in our food category," says Uma. "More competition leads to more choices. More choices lead to more consumers."

Burger King, with its foray into its 100th market, India, may be a late entrant to the country's fast-food scene, but it sees India becoming one of the largest markets globally.

USP: New 'Indian' menu

With pricing on par with rival McDonald's, Burger King pegs its newly fashioned 'Indian' menu as the differentiator. A menu that gives equal importance to vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings, both made from locally-sourced produce, and priced between Rs 35 - Rs 169 (regular size). With 6 different types of vegetarian burgers to offer, Burger King has left no stone unturned to create a wholesome vegetarian platter. However, it fails to offer any Mumbai-centric flavours.

Veg Whopper
The Whopper is now the largest burger in India, surpassing the Maharaja Mac by McDonald's

Its flagship burger, the Whopper, has been unveiled for the first time in a vegetarian, chicken and mutton variant. The Whopper now becomes the largest burger in Indian market, surpassing the Maharaja Mac by McDonald's. One glaring miss is Burger King's original Whopper made from beef. Why leave out your trump card when testing new waters? "Our research didn't show enough demand for beef in India," says Uma.

Some Mumbaikars beg to differ.

"I was disappointed when there was no beef burger. I am sure there are many others like me who were vouching for it. And if there isn't a consumer base, why not create one?" asks Siddharth Kejriwal, a 19-year-old from Goregaon.

What next?

Burger King plans to open 10 more outlets in 2-3 months, with the next launch in Mumbai slated to be an independent restaurant. The initial expansion is focused only in Mumbai and Delhi as it feels they are the key markets to gain a firm footing in India.

With crores of rupees invested in each outlet, Burger King will decide on its future growth plan after studying the initial response of consumers to its products and pricing.

Burger King has no plans to offer home delivery, online ordering and drive-through services initially and will consider them only after launching its outlets, reveals Uma.

Mumbai's verdict

The Crispy Veg, Paneer King Melt and Veg Chilli Cheese seem to be a step up from the competition. Their patties are cooked with a dash of spice, a flavour unmistakably 'Indian'. The fresh vegetables and lettuce add the crunchiness and juiciness that Indians crave for.

Where Burger King lacks with the absence of beef, it tries to make up for with a lavish flame-grilled chicken spread. The Chicken Tandoor Grill, Chicken Chilli Cheese and Grill Chicken have become the talk of the town within days of being launched.

Flame-grilled Chicken Tandoor Grill

Flame-grilled Chicken Tandoor Grill. Pic/Burger King India 

Priyanka Parmar, Malad: There are a lot more options to choose from, especially for vegetarians. I loved the Veg Chilli Cheese burger. And given the generous serving, it is worth the price.

Veg Chilli Cheese Burger
Veg Chilli Cheese burger

Akriti Ganju, Goregaon: My picks would be the Mutton Whopper and Chicken Chilli Cheese. If only beef burgers were available here.

Mutton Whopper
Flame-grilled Mutton Whopper. Pic/Burger King India

Prachi Chaube, Jogeshwari: The fries were a let-down as it lacked taste. The Rock-It fries were soggy. If you are ordering onion rings, choose 'angry' sauce as your accompaniment. The crunchiness of the rings and the hot and spicy sauce make for a good combo.

(Clockwise from left) Rock-It fries, fries and onion rings with ‘angry’ sauce
(Clockwise from left) Rock-It fries, fries and onion rings with accompaniment 'angry' sauce

Anwar Shaikh, Bandra: The Spicy Bean Royale was disappointing. There was nothing 'spicy' about it.

Shrey Sunil, Goregaon: Staff managed the crowd well and provided quick service.

"And what happens when the novelty wears off? Would Burger King be able to beat McDonald's eventually?" I ask a group of friends who were enjoying their meal. "Given the quality, quantity and pricing, I think Burger King would be a good bet to fall back on," says Paul Palathingal from Mahim.

While interacting with them, my voice was drowned amid chants again.

And this time, I just smiled.

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