“It’s not a burger, but a meal,” this is how people see at burger today. A clutch of global burger giants such as Johnny Rockets, Carl’s Jr, Barcelos and Wendy’s that have recently set up shop in India. A non-veg burger starts from Rs 350 and goes up to Rs 575 at the Californian fast-food chain Johnny Rockets, the vegetarian counterpart starts from Rs 325 and goes up to Rs 475. Not to be left behind is Carl’s Jr, another Californian burger giant, which will open its first outlet in India next month. The top-priced veg and nonveg burger are likely to priced at Rs 400 and Rs 500, respectively.
“We are talking about burgers which are a meal,” says Bakshish Dean, CEO of Prime Gourmet, the Indian franchisee of Johnny Rockets, which opened its first outlet in January last year.For his part Dean says there’s no rocket science involved behind the high price. He goes on to explain the economics. The buns are at least five times as expensive as the ones used by the mass burger makers, and the fresh produce filled is disproportionately more than what anyone offers. “Quality does come at a price,” says Dean.
Barcelos, the South African brand that made its debut in India in March this year, recently launched red and black burgers. Rohit Malhotra, general manager operations of Barcelos India, says their organic colourful buns stuffed with grilled stuff and Peri Peri sauces are more of a health play.
Marketing experts say premiumisation of the burger is here to stay. If bottled water can have Rail Neer at the bottom, Bisleri in the middle and Evian and Perrier at the top, then why not burgers, asks brand strategist Harish Bijoor. “There will be a caste system of burger munchers.”
While acknowledging that the real burger revolution was led by McDonald’s, Bijoor believes that the market in the future would be driven by the premium players. The brands offering value for money burgers dished out in outlets which smell alike, look alike and behave alike would be at a loss, he contends. “To an extent, McDonald’s has today become the ration shop of burgers.”
Carl’s Jr too is betting big on its quality. “One can no longer sell a burger with just ketchup inside. People won’t bite into that anymore,” says Sana Chopra, executive director of Cybiz BrightStar Restaurants, the Indian franchisee of the California-based premium burger chain. The new players may be charging a premium but there are some who are aware of the limitations of the Indian market. Wendy’s is one of them. The American burger brand opened its first outlet in India in May 2015.
“We are conscious that India is a price-sensitive market,” says Sanjay Chhabra, director of Sierra Nevada Restaurants, a joint venture company which brought Wendy’s to India.
Probably that’s the reason why Wendy’s entry level burgers starts at Rs 59, although they go up to just under Rs 280. Clearly, Wendy’s believes it can be Walmart as well as Armani in burger land.