McDonald’s India: An embarrassment to Ray Kroc’s legacy

The fast food landscape in India is poised to grow at an exponential rate. Prior to the heavy hit that the ill thought off demonetisation dealt to the industry in late 2016, the outlook was that the quick service restaurant industry was to grow at a CAGR of 25% touching 25000 crores (5.4bn USD) by 2020.

McDonald’s entry to the Indian market in 1996 could be considered as the launch of the entire QSR industry with their expansion pan-India in a relatively short period of time. A lot of Indian millennials probably went to a McDonald’s on their first date when in school since it was a big deal. While they did a great job in India offering the international standard localised to a high degree and very much budget oriented, I think they have failed the Indian masses. The absence of beef on the menu means the Indian menu is already highly divergent from the international versions. Ray Kroc’s legacy of standardising quality and operations means that a consumer can order a Big Mac in Detroit, Michigan or in Nairobi, Kenya and can get a burger which are quite identical ( there are minor variations in sizes, calories, toppings etc on a regional level). In beefaphobic India, they first rebranded the big mac as the Maharaja Mac with Lamb and since then have reinvented the Maharaja as a pathetic chicken exclusive burger keeping in line with the rest of the menu.

With the arrival of larger competitors like Burger King, I had hoped it would spark a brief moment of culinary inspiration from McDonald’s at least on a regional level in India. My hopes were dashed. Burger King just replicated the bland McD model with a chicken exclusive menu at the same price point. McD trying to feed the Indian consumer traditional vada pav as McAloo Tikki and other localised items like McSpicy Paneer was interesting within the Indian context but definitely not reinventing the wheel. After decades, their menu is not inspiring with increased competition. So, its understandable that the execs want to create a splash with the menu. Cue, the McDosa.

What I am disappointed is in their continuous rejection of thinking beyond India’s limitations. Instead of opening up the curious Indian palate to creative international menu items, McD is content in wallowing in the relative safety of Indian cuisine. India doesn’t need more McDosa’s, McIdli’s and McChaats. They get enough of that elsewhere. The newer QSR chains are more likely to be braver and McDonald’s is going to lose market share in a burgeoning industry. The Dosa Burger is not going to help them regain it and that is a good thing for the Indian Consumer.