Mumbai's Answer to McDonald's - Veggie Street Food

by Rajashri on Sep 22 2008 1:43 PM

Enterprising Mumbaikars have decided to fight the popularity of McDonald's by promoting clean and hygienic street food.

Dheeraj Gupta is a man with a big vision: to take on McDonald's with traditional vegetarian street food from Mumbai and make it as synonymous with India as a burger and fries are to the United States.

The 34-year-old and his wife, Reeta, 32, run Jumbo King, a Mumbai-based fast-food company that sells vada pav, a deep-fried spicy potato patty in a bun that is the size and shape of a quarter-pounder.

Vada pav has suffered from a reputation problem in recent years: cooked and sold by greasy-handed vendors from grimy stalls on the side of Mumbai's teeming and polluted roads, it was considered food for the poor.

But to tackle public hesitancy over hygiene, Jumbo King introduced centralised production lines and more rigorous standards of cleanliness, which appears to have worked, attracting schoolchildren to office workers.

The product has proved so lucrative for the entrepreneurial Guptas that they now have ambitious plans to expand from some 50 franchised outlets at present to about 200 by the end of next year.

Eight to 10 new franchises are opening each month. Many are strategically located at stations on Mumbai's bustling suburban rail network, at busy road intersections and near markets to ensure regular customers.

Once franchise numbers hit 500, Gupta told AFP that they will look at publicly listing the company and also expanding overseas to meet demand from expat Indians hungry for a taste of home.

"Our vision is to make vada pav into the national snack. When you think of America, the first thing that comes to mind is burger and fries," said the father of two.

"We want vada pav to be the first thing you think about when you come to India."

Gupta, who deals with the franchising, operations and finance side of the business, believes the firm could even open up to 2,000 outlets in India in the next decade.

"McDonald's has at least 12,000 stores in the United States. Jumbo King should look to at least those numbers in a country with more than double the population," he said.

To do so, Gupta is closely following McDonald's 'start small, think big' philosophy. Menus are limited, the cost is low (7-15 rupees or 15-32 cents) and the products are widely advertised and promoted, often with merchandising.

"McDonald's have been selling a similar product for the last 50 years and have done it smartly and successfully," he added.

But Gupta is confident they can beat McDonald's at their own game, primarily because the US chain, which has 132 outlets in India, sells a basic burger here for between 25-40 rupees (54-88 cents).

"We market Jumbo King at the right price. McDonald's is expensive, therefore the market for us is bigger," he said.

The business plan looks to be paying dividends: the firm's projected turnover for the current financial year is between 8 million to 11 million dollars, he said.

Gupta, who readily admits he was inspired by the autobiography of McDonald's franchise pioneer Ray Kroc, predicted the business could be worth more than 100 million dollars by the time they have 500 stores.

Jumbo King's rapid expansion is down to the new economic climate sweeping India, said the hotel management and catering technology graduate, who like his wife holds a masters in business administration.

Business here has traditionally been dominated by large conglomerates like the Tata and Reliance groups, who have a diverse range of interests.

Now Indian companies are focusing on selling single products to the growing Indian middle classes, whose purchasing power for consumer goods has shot up because of the country's recent economic growth, he said.