When McDonald’s ventured into India in 1996, it offered an all-American dining experience minus one vital ingredient – the beef.
Its consumption is a widespread taboo, even among the country’s meat-eaters, so the fast food giant substituted mutton in its otherwise standard global menu.
“We thought that we could just replace one red meat with the other,” recalls Vikram Bakshi, managing director of Connaught Plaza Restaurants, which holds the franchise to operate McDonald’s in north and east India.
But that underestimated the challenge of catering to Indian tastes. With fat content far lower than that of beef, mutton burgers were rubbery, not juicy. McDonald’s “special sauce” did not quite suit the meat either.
And many Indians still feared eating mutton outside the home, in case it was inadvertently mixed with beef.
After two years of sluggish sales, the company withdrew its mutton burgers after casting round for more popular offerings – including more vegetarian items.
Today, 70 per cent of its India menu is “indigenised”, with items such as “paneer salsa wrap,” and various chicken and vegetarian burgers developed for Indian palates.
The localisation is paying off. McDonald’s Indian revenues, which analysts put at $120m, are growing 33 per cent a year, fuelled by new outlets and also an 11 per cent year-on-year increases in same-store sales.