‘The market has reached that point where burger is not a vada pav anymore’

Californian burger chain Carl’s Jr, popular for its
char-broiled burger, is all set to enter Indian market. After extensive
research, which included numerous studies and surveys, the premium burger chain
has announced its debut with 100 stores in first phase of India operation.

Californian burger chain Carl’s Jr, popular for its
char-broiled burger, is all set to enter Indian market. After extensive
research, which included numerous studies and surveys, the premium burger chain
has announced its debut with 100 stores in first phase of India operation.

CKE Restaurants Holdings- parent company of Carl’s Jr. has
assigned the task to food and restaurant arm of Cybiz Corp., Cybiz BrightStar
Restaurants Pvt. Ltd. Known for its popular campaigns, the chain is planning
something big and bold for Indian market too. In an exclusive interview with India Hospitality Review,  Sam
Chopra, Chairman and Founder and Sana Chopra, Director, Cybiz BrightStar
Restaurants Pvt. Ltd
talk about exclusive placement of Carl’s Jr., its
scope and potential in Indian market. Excerpts:

Why did
Cybiz BrightStar decide to bring Carl’s Jr. to India now? Do you think this is
an opportune moment to get into the burger market?

Sam: There is always a perfect time, and the
perfect time is always the time which is called ‘now’. But having said that,
Carl’s Jr. has been flirting with India for the last five years. In the first
two years, we found that the market is not fully ready to convert into a burger
market. For the last three years we have been closely monitoring it and we set
our sights saying that we will set it up and we could have entered India three
years ago. But we were cautious as to when to announce.  We have been in this market; Carl’s Jr.
global has done various market surveys and studies on India culture. It takes
time for any company to enter a new country. One needs to do country
appreciation. This has taken its share of time. Post that we have done 5-6
market surveys, when we started menu engineering because we had to do a lot of

believe that the time for burgers has arrived. Over a period of time there is a
hype of various foods that come into the market. Burgers are the new pizzas. It
is a process which a lot of people started and by word of mouth a number of
burger chains have been saying that they are looking to enter the market. Now
burgers are being looked upon as ultra modern, young, aggressive, fast food
which is both healthy and filling, which is unlike what it was in the past.

Sana: I think for us, especially for a
gourmet burger, the market has reached that point where it is not a vada pav
anymore. It is actually a burger. It’s a full meal and people are willing to
shell out a little more money for a premium burger and a premium experience.

Do you
do this kind of extensive research before entering any new market?

Sam: Yes. It is normally done. It is more
extensive in markets which pose particular challenges. As you are aware most of
the burger chains in the world don’t have a vegetarian variety. So India has
its own very strong challenges because 70% of menu is non-compliant for many
Indian customers; for example, a beef burger can’t be served here.

from the huge base of vegetarians in India, what else did your market research
focus on?

Sana: What we have done apart from conducting
online surveys is consumer research where consumers actually got firsthand
experience of our products. We made them try it. For example, the most recent one
was in November when we did a survey with real consumers who were invited in batches
of 100. They came everyday for over a week to try different sauces, patties and
buns and we got their feedback to understand what they like and what they

We even asked them in terms of what kind of
veggies they like. For example, one of our USPs is going to be honey oat bread,
which a lot of people haven’t tried. Even our burgers will be customized for people.
So when they come to the order counter, they can actually order their choice of
burger, patty or veggie for that matter. Something like- make your own burger.

We will continue educating people, to the level
of specifying, say, what part of chicken the patty contains.

Our USP is also char-broiled or char-grilled burgers;
some burger chains have started serving non vegetarian char-broiled burgers,
but we will be the first one to do vegetarian char-broiled burgers.

We have done a lot of research in order to
master the art of char-grilled vegetarian burger. So, for the first time, India
will have a burger chain which will serve such a variety. In fact, it is also
the first time this kind of burger will be available anywhere in the world. The
parent team is quite happy with the results and is mulling on taking it to
other markets, such as the Middle East.

will there be enough takers for this kind of burger, given the fact that India
is not a very mature market and inclination towards healthier options is yet to
gain ground?

Sana: Since Indians love fried food, we will
obviously serve fried options. Initially people could not even imagine a
char-broiled burger. But from our researches we found that people are increasingly
opting for healthier substitutes and demanding options.

How are
you planning to pitch yourself assuming that Carl’s Jr. already has a brand
presence, especially in the imagination of the market segment you are planning
to target in India?

Sana: People know what Carl’s Jr. is. They
know the sister brand Hardy’s at least. Carl’s Jr. is very famous for its aggressive
marketing and campaigns. We are and will be doing aggressive marketing in India
as well.

In terms of positioning, we will advertise
ourselves as  premium burger chain with
premium service, premium quality product and premium ambience, but it will also
be a value for money experience.

We feel that you have Red Ocean and Blue Ocean
strategy. In Red Ocean, you have a number of burger chains competing against
each other. We are going to be in the Blue Ocean category where we don’t think
there is anyone we need to compete against right now and nobody is going to
come in near future. We are not only going to provide premium burgers but also something
that will fit the pocket.

What is
the price range you will be introducing (in case you have already planned it)?

Sana: About Rs 250-350. We are still figuring
out the final price. Obviously, once the product is ready we will have a closer

We will be serving premium burgers at an affordable
price. That’s where we are going to position ourselves.

have announced 100 stores as you debut in the Indian market. It’s a huge number
given that in other countries the number never shot beyond double digits.

Sana: This was announced keeping in view our
kind of population and the potential of the market, and with India heading
towards a burger revolution. As you mentioned, thanks to McDonalds early entry,
consumers in India at least know what a burger is. Now as they are growing from
Tier-I to Tier-II and III cities, we see a market in Tier-I city and eventually
in secondary cities also. Why we decided to enter with 100 stores was because
we feel that India has the scope for it. A burger will be a meal in itself.
With nuclear families now, aspiring middle class and more youth population, we
feel there is a demand for that kind of presence in the Indian market.

Having said that, as you know, Carl’s Jr. decided
only recently to expand overseas. Keeping that in mind, we are hopeful that the
store will increase its number in other markets as well.  

are some of the locations you are looking at for a Carl’s Jr. store in India.?

Sana: As of now we are clear that we will
open our first few stores in Delhi NCR, mainly because sitting here we have a
greater control in this region. And as you know we will have company owned

We are looking at bigger markets such as Chandigarh,
Mumbai etc. We will be doing North then West and then rest of the country. In
terms of locations, we are still in the process of identifying the first few
locations. But it’s going to be in high-end streets and malls for sure.  

tell us about the operating model of the restaurant in India.

Sana: The stores will be company owned
stores. But we have the right to franchise. We are masters in franchising. But
for Carl’s Jr. we are not looking at franchising right now because we are quite
passionate about it and want to open company owned stores.  However, that doesn’t mean that two or five
years down the line we may not be open to the idea. But that would only happen
if we give multi-unit stores or trade areas to groom but that will be done only
if I feel that someone else has a better control and better skill than us to
operate it.

will be the size of outlets?

Sana: Anything between 2000-3000 square feet.
But our sweet spot is 2500 square feet.

Capacity will vary from 50-100 depending on
licensing issues and location. We do not want to compromise on the ambience and
the signature Californian experience. 

there anything planned for the launch?

Sana: We are looking at a lot of interesting
ideas as to how should we go about launching the first store in India. Our first
store will come up in the first or second week of April. We are toying with the
idea of having a brand ambassador, free coupons etc. But we are definitely
looking at an impactful social media buzz.

 A lot
of QSRs have entered the Indian market lately and they have done interesting stuff.
We are looking at a unique idea. We will do a big bang launch definitely. We
want to see a five- hour waiting to enter the store definitely.

reflections on how burger is perceived among us Indians

Sam: Over the years, consumers have become
affluent and aware. A burger can be as innovative as Indian food to the masses,
and now there is a demand for a better product. The point is burger is not
simply a product; it’s a form of eating food. In American food, there is a patty,
bun and fries. There can be a number of burgers depending on the placement and
composition of ingredients. The problem is we keep calling the burger a
product. It’s not a product. It’s another form of food. It’s a cuisine in itself.

the amount of research you have done and the kind of unique products that you have
come up with, what is the point of bringing a foreign brand. Why not develop an
indigenous brand here?

Sam: When somebody has spent almost 75 years
in building a product, why should I reinvent it? The kind of investment I will
need to build a brand, the standard operating procedures, years of management
expertise, technology and suppliers support… when I can have all of these
coming on a platform at the same time. It’s a very small price to pay to
incorporate them. And to add to it, the brand value remains as compared to a
homegrown product developed overnight.

Yes, training is an issue. We do not have as
many trained professionals. So it is on us to encourage a healthy cross pollination.
We will try to contribute in the training process.

important is ambience in a Quick Service Restaurant setup?

Sam: We would like to mention that the
segment we are trying to create is Fast Casual Segment. You get your food as
fast as a QSR. But the experience will be that of casual dining. We will be
into Premium Fast Casual restaurant segment. We will be like the Starbucks of the
burger market.

are your expectations from the Indian market?

Sam: The year 2015 will be the year of
burgers. Some have already set up shop, some others have announced. 

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