On issues that matter …

Flavor of the Day October 20, 2012

The 19,973rd Starbucks coffee store opened to much fanfare in Mumbai today. And as with the advent of anything American, Indians seem excited about it, or may be just Mumbaikars for now. After all in American culture, Starbucks is to the morning cuppa, as denim is to style and rap is to music. It is all about attitude.

So hey, why not, Indians have it too, I mean, the attitude, and plenty of it.

But India being India, American attitudes at Starbucks Mumbai will be served in an Indian shrine like ambience – Indian teak tables, vintage Indian trunks, Indian wooden screens make up the décor, and a menu that includes tandoori paneer rolls and elaichi mawa croissants. That’s Indianisation for you – they have all done it, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut, Subway Sandwich…

Iconic and part of the American landscape though it is, even today, 40 years since it was founded first in Seattle, Washington, Starbucks continues to fizz out some of the most expensive of coffees of any fast food chain in the US.

That kind of pricing, obviously, would have been a deterrent in India – a market reality that the coffee chain was well aware of. So, at 82 rupees (a little over $2 for a tall), it is still better priced than at any of the Starbucks US locations.

Sure Starbucks, like the many Café Coffee Day outlets, will cater to a different segment of coffee drinkers in India – I would think, young, upwardly mobile, urban Indians with money and attitudes to match.

So, the entry of a global brand for the high end consumer is not something that would make much difference in a country like India. There are millions who earn less than those $2 a day.

In an economy that is yet to open up fully, Starbucks is no benign flavor of the day. They may not become as ubiquitous as the Shetty-owned Udupi restaurants that were known for their filter coffee, used to be, but the chain is known for its predatory methods of doing business.

I was never really a fan of Starbucks in all the years that I lived in the US. My main grouse was that, with cream and sugar, their coffees invariably turn tepid. And, for better or worse, I like my coffee hot.

Srirekha Chakravarty


Hindu burgers September 5, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Srirekha @ 9:54 pm
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Multiculturalism may have become a given and almost passé as a concept in marketing today but it was long set as a theoretical standard by American multinational companies. Although the American soft drink giants like Coke and Pepsi found their way into distant lands by creating their space unapologetically as all-American products – it took fast food chains a little longer before they found a way to blend into local cultures while keeping their American spirit intact.

I refer here to McDonald’s and KFC, which for instance, are only post-liberalization India entrants.

Not many Americans, who are used to seeing the welcoming golden arches, as much a part of the American landscape as Exit signs on the freeways, perhaps know that McDonald’s, which almost flavors their cultural identity, does not serve the quintessential Big Mac in India.

Launched in India some 15 years ago with a ‘no beef’ (read, No Big Mac) menu in metro cities, McDonald’s slowly but surely found approval among the urban mall-going youth and families with disposable incomes.

McDonald’s is no ‘Udupi’ restaurant though. In so many years, it claims to be a leader in the retail food chain market with 250 restaurants and 650,000 customers a day.

Nevertheless, coming back to its vegetarian efforts… in keeping with its policy to respect local culture in each market it operates in, McDonald’s introduced its first no beef, no pork menus for the first time ever in India. It has practically re-engineered its operations to address the special requirements of vegetarians, the McDonald’s India corporate press kit states. Special care is taken to ensure that vegetarian and non-vegetarian cooking is done in separate utensils and other equipment. Even the mayonnaise and soft serve ice creams 100% vegetarian and all cooking is done in vegetable oil.

And now, looks like the fast food giant is boldly going where all food habits in this country converge in – religion. In a cheeky attempt at capturing the palette of Indian pilgrims, McDonald’s is launching all-vegetarian outlets, strategically in pilgrim cities like Amritsar and Vaishnodevi in Jammu & Kashmir.

Wow, now that’s globalization meets -cultural sensitivity meets -strategic planning meets –ultra localization of a multinational brand.

Personally, a fast food snob-cum-health freak that I am, I am no fan of McDonald’s. In fact, the ‘Happy Meal’ originator is trying to find respectability back home in America from the suddenly aware consumers and trying to shake off its role as a contributor to America’s obesity. But I do admire the vision of its founders. Given its unfathomable diversity, food, they knew, is the greatest unifier for cultures across the world.

But while they are in India, I would warn them to trek carefully where pilgrims are concerned. Because with religion, politics is not too far behind.

I already heard some murmurs coming from some offshoot of the RSS that targeting Indian pilgrims was somehow “humiliating” for Hindus and therefore they would oppose the opening of the all-vegetarian McDonald’s outlets.

I can only sympathize with McDonald’s. India, they may well know defies theory, at least in religious politics.