It’s pouring burger chains, specifically US burger chains, at the moment in India. The latest to join the bandwagon is Carl’s Jr, which just opened its first store in Delhi’s most visited mall, Select Citywalk earlier this month.
The Carpinteria, California, headquartered company is one the largest US fast food chains today, with almost 1,500 Carl’s Jr. restaurants worldwide. The brand’s parent company, CKE Restaurants Holdings, whose other major brand is Hardee’s, has over 3,500 franchised or company-operated restaurants in over 35 countries, making it one of the largest US chains today. “India represents a tremendous market opportunity,” says Ned Lyerly, President, International at CKE Restaurants as a reason for the brand’s entry into India.
The brand is being brought to India by Cybiz BrightStar Restaurants, owned by Gurgaon-based CybizCorp, through a master franchise agreement with CKE. Sam Chopra, Group Chairman and Founder of CybizCorp, which also has interests in real estate brokerage, says the company has raised $2 million through private equity investors. Significantly cricketer Yuvraj Singh-led YouWeCan, has not just invested an undisclosed amount in the company but will also be the face of the brand in India, reveals Chopra. CybizCorp is looking to seal more funding as it plans an all India roll out, though for the first year however, it is Delhi NCR that will see the brand outlets – five before the end of the year. Over the next five years, the plan is to open 100 Carl’s Jr. outlets across India, with a longer term aim of 1,000 outlets over 15 years.
Incidentally, the brand is entering India at a time when a number of other similar brands have just entered the Indian market, including Wendy’s, Johnny Rockets and Burger King. The quick service restaurant or QSR format is king at the moment, at least in upwardly mobile India. And that’s where the chains are looking cash in as the Indian food market grows at an estimated 15 to 20 per cent annually. Market research firm Crisil forecasts that the fast-food market in India will touch Rs 7,000 crore by 2016, and burgers have a substantial share in it.
To stand out in this increasingly competitive market, Chopra says the brand has customised significantly to cater to Indian sensibilities. Outwardly, the same Happy Star in red and yellow, Carl’s Jr equivalent of the golden arches, beams over welcoming customers. The interiors are different from outlets in the US, more casual dining than QSR. The first outlet in India is spread over approximately 3,000 sq. feet with about 90 covers and a training kitchen.
The restaurant lists about 15 vegetarian and non- vegetarian burgers – wider choice than competition, Chopra points out, with hand breaded-chicken offerings. No beef or pork burgers mean most of the menu had to be revised. Of course, many of the new burgers are custom made for India e.g. Aloo Achari or Tandoori Paneer, or even Santa Fe Fenugreek, though there are also US favourites char-grilled burgers (healthier, I am told) on the menu.
Chopra, part of the family that owns Kwality Group, which once had India’s top ice cream brand, Kwality’s, seems to be confident of finding his customer, saying traditional choices such as methi should attract Indians. There are a variety of hand scooped ice-cream shakes, and free soft beverages refills. Yes, there’s beer on tap too – Kingfisher if you must know. Beer goes well with the menu, reasons Chopra.
And no, it is not getting into the low price burger war that has been raging on. Its burgers are higher priced, starting from Rs 99, and promise of a difference from what rivals are offering. “We have got a niche, where we offer fast food with an experience,” Chopra says, pointing out that the parent brand had been very choosy in selecting supply vendors. Well, it’s time for the Indian customer to make the star happier!