I was in New York recently and looking for a good cup of coffee. As you know every shop in NYC is an eatery, but I could not get my cup of coffee, the way I like it. I hunted for Starbucks as no other Cappuccino would do for me. I wanted the comforting big Starbucks mug, I needed to sprinkle cinnamon and chocolate on my coffee and sit with other ‘Starbuckers’ to enjoy it.

Before the birth of McDonald’s, Americans could eat hamburgers in diners, cafes, restaurants, service stations or they could buy them semi prepared and make them at home. Anybody could fix a hamburger. In a manner of speaking, hamburgers have been a part of the staple diet of the Americans. The brand has a presence not just in North America but almost in every part of the world though 54% of the share of revenues is contributed by the home country. McDonald’s successfully commercialized virtual street fare, providing consistent quality, convenience and speed. It became the definitive fast food. The scale of the operation allowed good margins even at low prices to the consumer. McDonald’s were able to make a success even with a product that was not entirely made in the factory, was not pre packaged and had to be finished at the point of purchase.
Starbucks took this a little further with coffee, a product that is available in any place that serves food or offers refreshments and almost every American drinks coffee at home.

They too standadrised the product format but the delivery of product was where the brand was unique. Starbucks Coffee invited customers to share an experience. First it identified with youth in terms of the Explorer brand archetype that it adopted and followed this through in the choice of logo and the ambience that each outlet provided; a place for young people to hang out, or for anybody to sit, read, chat. While it is moving out of its home base, 75% share of revenues still come form North America.

Domino’s and Pizza Hut did the same thing with pizzas. It is interesting that all these companies created billion dollar empires out of industialising the process of delivering fresh food finished at the point of purchase across several outlets.

Now all these companies have either entered India or planning to. India has been a difficult market as far as foods have been concerned. Even ice cream or chocolates have not really enjoyed the success of local sweetmeats and desserts. It would, perhaps, be too simplistic to assume that an ice cream for Re.1 could turn the tide. The problem is more serious- it is about conversion of the palate. Would it then not be easier to follow the example of these iconic companies and start with our own staple foods. We have a smorgasbord of our favourite national foods; pao bhaji, chana bhatura, samosas, dosas, idlis etc.

With rising incomes, greater frequency of eating out and women more gainfully employed (whether working from home as in embroidery, tuitions etc or working outside), maybe it is now time for doing a Starbucks or a McDonald’s on samosas, vada pavs, and chana bhatura. Haldiram’s in Delhi has already done it for savouries and built a multi crore business out of packaging and branding commodities in savoury snacks category, earlier available loose or packaged from the local bania or halwai. The point is that there is a market out there for all those cynics who would say – nobody will buy branded pav bhaji. Swati Snacks is one single outlet that offers street fare and is highly popular in South Mumbai. However, it has not expanded even within the city. Or MTR in Bangalore, an institution and a must for a visitor to Bangalore. That is certainly one brand that can be extended. Udipi restaurants are an attempt at scaling up of South Indian fare but are yet to reach the critical mass or the tipping point.

So would one of our entrepreneurs rise to the challenge. And if each of these products became a company think of the unlimited brands that would spawn.

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