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A taste of indovation

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GOING LOCAL: Within a month of its India launch, Dunkin' Donuts has added items like Alphonso mango smoothie

Foreign food majors in India now follow the rule of thumb: localise if you want to maximise.

It was early on a Tuesday morning at Delhi's Connaught Place, but not too early for a sprightly team to convene outside a new outlet in one of the market's alleys. The curtains lifted to reveal a lively little bistro that was greeted by a loud chorus from the crowd: 'D-U-N-K-I-N'.

It was American brand Dunkin' Donuts' first day in the city and there was a clamour at the counter for donuts, sandwiches and lichee coolattas. One month, three stores and some close observation later, Dunkin' Donuts has added items like Alphonso mango smoothie, something that doesn't appear on their American menu. They've apparently figured the Indian palate out.

The word on the street is 'Indovation', a portmanteau of innovations for India, and all the foreign food service brands have grasped it. From McDonalds' ubiquitous aloo tikki burger to Donuts' nod to the alphonso, international brands in the quick service restaurant (QSR) space are speaking the local language of food to hit home with the Indian consumer.

Four years ago, the promoters of Dunkin' Donuts In India - Jubilant FoodWorks, who are also the distributors for pizza chain Domino's - were scouting for international brands they could partner with. After almost two decades of a successful stint with Domino's, Jubilant knew the playing field had changed. Instead of addressing a niche segment like it did with Domino's, the food service chain was now looking for a more wholesome offering, tweaked just right to tickle Indian tastebuds.

Early last year, Jubilant struck a deal with American company Dunkin' Brands - the parent brand of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins. While the world over the coffee and baked goods chain is known as Dunkin' Donuts, in India it has been branded Dunkin' Donuts & More - the 'more' fashioned exclusively to make room to 'Indovate'.

With early birds like McDonald's having learnt their lesson the hard way, localisation has now become the mantra for most international brands. The burger giant, which entered India in 1996, struggled with getting its menu right for years before it hit it off with the local consumer.

"We realised very soon that we wouldn't be able to have the iconic range of items from McDonald's work here in India, " says Vikram Bakshi, MD, McDonald's India (North and East). "We started listening to the consumer very carefully. We added more varieties of vegetarian food and a whole new spicy range of products, " he says.
Today, as much as 60 per cent of McDonald's menu is created exclusively for India. The brand is further looking to micro-design its menu to suit local tastes.
Papa John's and Slice of Italy - recent players in the pizza space - have already added products just for Indians. KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) added vegetarian food to its menu after it acknowledged the potential consumers in this space.
Besides quick service restaurants, multinationals in the FMCG space too are acknowledging Indian preferences to boost their market share. PepsiCo's Kurkure that is placed as direct competition to local players like Bikanervala is currently among the few Rs 1, 000 crore brands in PepsiCo's portfolio designed just for Indians. The company recently announced a slew of launches under its Aliva brand - another product it is betting on heavily to amplify its India growth story. Coca Cola's Thums Up - the brand's fastest growing cola in the country - was innovated for the spicier Indian taste and Nestle's Masala Maggi has been the undisputed leader in the noodles category for the past 25 years.

French Dairy major Danone, which is known the world over for its flavoured yogurts, has launched lassis in India. The company, whose R&D strategy is focused on Indianisation, is aiming to double its growth in the country with its customised products.

Even though the practice of Indianising Western cuisines might run counter to the very principles of "international" food chains, experts say the shift is worth it if it gets brands even a fraction of the Rs 7, 000 crore QSR space in India.

It pays to understand the Indian consumer, says brand strategy specialist Harish Bijoor. Indians might look for a foreign label on everything from food to clothes and accessories, but they ultimately settle for something they are accustomed to.

"When international brands first came into India, they laboured under the impression that consumers would seek out foreign tastes. But it was only a temporary shift, for Indians are reverting to their original predilections now, " says Anindya Banerjee, creative director of Scarecrow, an ad agency.

Along with brands, marketers too are striving to send the desired message across. Advertising agency Leo Burnett, which is the creative agency for brands like Thums Up and McDonald's, says with multinationals warming to local flavours, the basics of advertising too have changed from catchy jingles to content-rich messages.

From McDonald's tongue-in-cheek boyfriend-girfriend TVC to Akshay Kumar's life-threatening stunts in Thums Up, ads reflect the brands' Indian masculine imagery. The ad agency says it is understanding the customer that ultimately sells a product.

"We came up with the tagline 'Kabhi kabhi baat paison ki nahi, dil ki hoti hai' for McDonald's, which shows it is not as expensive as other restaurants. Value for money is something Indians have always looked for, " says Arvind Sharma, CEO, Leo Burnett.

While reports indicate that the share of the organised food service space in India is only a minuscule percentage of the size of the industry in other Asian markets like China and Thailand, the lack of penetration is making it the Klondike gold rush of fast food majors across the globe. Seems like everyone's up for a piece of the Indian pie. . . or parantha!

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