When Kentucky Fried Chicken, synonymous with its ‘finger lickin good’ positioning, altered its tagline for India to ‘so veg, so good’ to promote its paneer zinger burger and veg twister this March, it was not just a marketing fad. Since then the fast-food chain’s sales of its vegetarian items in the country have shot up by 50%. “On different days of the week, various people turn vegetarian for different religious reasons. We realised we couldn’t alienate those consumers and needed to go after them,” said Dhruv Kaul, chief marketing officer at Yum! Restaurants that owns KFC. With Indian consumers, including a significant number of youngsters, adopting vegetarianism in a big way, global and Indian restaurant chains such as Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s, Mad Over Donuts and Made in Punjab are increasing their vegetarian menu rapidly in the country, backed with marketing campaigns. “It’s an undeniable fact that India is largely a vegetarian market. It’s telling you in the face,” Yum!’s Kaul said. KFC backed up its ‘soveg, so good’ tagline by boosting its vegetarian menu with items such as Restaurant chains increasing vegetarian menu rapidly in the country veg rice bowls and veg rockin’ burgers, and playing videos across its stores showing how it was using separate kitchen areas and separate oil for cooking the vegetarian food along with a social media campaign to tell consumers how serious it is about vegetarian menu. It goes without saying that India has the largest number of vegetarian dishes on KFC menu. Zorawar Kalra, celebrity chef Jiggs Kalra’s entrepreneur son who runs Made in Punjab restaurants, said that despite items like butter chicken being the best-known Punjabi cuisine, more than half of his sales come from vegetarian food.
“With consumers in the West also talking about adopting vegetarianism, it’s more than a fad now,” he said. “That India is the only naturally vegetarian country in the world accelerates the focus on vegetarianism that much more.” A recent survey on pizza sales by food delivery portal foodpanda.in showed that almost four out of every five pizzas sold in Delhi are vegetarian. “It surprised us, coming from Delhi with its majority pop Punjabi population,” said Rohit Chaddha, co-founder and CEO at foodpanda. He said 15% of the 4,000-odd restaurants listed on
foodpanda now serve only vegetarian food. “Our observation is the trend is steadily increasing, which could be because of religion and sensitivity to animals.” Aji Nair, vice-president for the food & beverages division at Mirah Hospitality, said a combination of factors is driving up vegetarianism in the country. “We’ve observed that youngsters are now participating in a lot of rituals. Besides, people directly or indirectly connect health consciousness to vegetarianism,” he said. Mirah Hospitality-owned Khandani Rajdhani, which runs a chain of 28 allvegetarian restaurants, on an average sells about 1.9 lakh vegetarian thalis a month. Devendra Chawla, president of Future Group-owned Food Bazaar, said there are several things driving youngsters to go vegetarian. “The landscape of food consumption is undergoing a huge change with new trends like vegan and gluten-free foods. The young are citing a host of reasons for going meat-free, from personal taste and concerns about animal treatment to influence of peers and celebrities,” he said. “The chef revolution is also contributing by glamourising use of vegetarian food.”
Multinational chains have been quick to adapt to the trend. Domino’s Pizza, the country’s biggest fast-food chain, said 65% of its pizza sales in the country are vegetarian. The chain already has 11 pure-vegetarian outlets in the country including ones at religious places of Golden Temple in Amritsar, Haridwar, Shirdi and Vaishno Devi. “We expect that 65-70% of our consumption mix will continue in favour of vegetarian food,” said Harneet Singh Rajpal, senior vice-president for marketing at Jubilant FoodWorks that runs Domino’s in the country. With the start of the nine-day Navratri festival when a large number of nonveg Hindus specially in the North and West go off meat on Thursday, most food chains are promoting their vegetarian menu. Domino’s, for example, is promoting its five new vegetarian pizzas during this period. “We expect at least 60% of our non-vegetarian customers to turn purely vegetarian during this period,” Rajpal said. Burger and fries chain McDonald’s biggest selling product in India remains aloo tikki burger despite a string of chicken and egg innovations. “Sale of non-vegetarian products does go down during the Navratras. But it is more than compensated by robust volume increase in the sale of vegetarian products,” said Rajesh Kumar Maini, general manager for corporate communications at McDonald’s (North & East). Doughnut chain Mad over Donuts (MOD) displays across all its stores upfront that its doughnuts, cookies and cupcakes are completely eggless. “It’s made a huge difference to our sales. We tell this (that we are 100% eggless) to consumers in all our campaigns, on social media, and point of sale,” said Tarak Bhattacharya, chief
operating officer at MOD.