The big bite of 2021: Burgers take over the fast food market!

If indulgence had a name, it would be burger as the quintessentially American meal was among the most popular food items of the year

Blame the pandemic for fast delivery eat-at-home orders or the smart eating millennials, burgers have become a satisfying, instant meal
Blame the pandemic for fast delivery eat-at-home orders or the smart eating millennials, burgers have become a satisfying, instant meal

In the past few months, burgers became a part of major F&B orders. The quintessentially American meal gained ground as quick service restaurants (QSRs), cloud kitchens and take-away platforms offered burgers as safe, hygienic, and customised orders. Blame the pandemic for fast delivery eat-at-home orders or the ever-consuming smart eating millennials, burgers became a satisfying, instant meal.

India’s growing appetite for fast food has taken the comfort meal to a level where gourmet products and fresh ingredients have underlined new and niche offerings. “Burger is the vada pav of the future,” says celebrity chef and author Vicky Ratnani, who started a burger brand Speak Burgers, along with actor Kashishh Rajput and entrepreneur Alberto Bestonso, in November this year. Taking the food item to another level by offering fresh premium ingredients, cheese, brioche, sauces, patties, and antibiotic-free meats—all made in-house, Ratnani says he felt the need to open a real chef-centric gourmet burger brand in India.

“Burgers are considered junk food, but we offer everything home-made— bun, ketchup, kettle chips. There is no filler in the patty, and everything is cooked to order. Also, new ingredients at affordable price points make this meal a favourite for all ages,” says Ratnani. The Harissa Lamb Burger and Baja Style Beer Batter Fish Burger are a flavourful delight at Speak Burgers which are now delivered in Mumbai, with the founders now planing to expand it to other areas and cities across the country.

A Green Revolution: Paneer & Green Pea Burger priced at Rs 349 has a creamy paneer and green pea patty, basil pesto, rocket leaves, spicy ketchup, wasabi mayo and house pickles, served in housemade peppered potato bun. Udta Punjab Tandoori Chicken Burger in a similar price range has charcoal-grilled tandoori-spiced chicken thighs, mint sauce, aachari mayo, marinated tomato, house pickles, and sliced cheese, served in a housemade brioche bun; SurfBoard –Baja Fried Fish Burger has two fillets of crisp batter fried fish, green cabbage, chilli slaw, salsa verde, marinated tomato and lime chipotle mayo, served in a housemade brioche bun.

Innovations galore

A fast-food staple, hamburger—or what is now known as gourmet burger – is much in demand. It seems like a perfect convenient food for all seasons with a variety of options for vegetarian and meat lovers. Brands like Louis Burger by restaurateur Zorawar Kalra have revolutionised this staple by offering a dash of gold varq (leaf) in two premium gourmet burgers.

As managing director of Massive Restaurants, Kalra started this takeaway venture in July 2021, and introduced Louis Burger as a virtual brand that took Mumbai burger lovers by surprise. It was later launched in Delhi and is now ready for multiple city expansion by March 2022. “We have been working on it for over a year before we launched it. Thousands of trials went into making this product, we wanted to offer burgers we would like to eat ourselves,” says Kalra.

Burgers lend seamlessly as an all-time favourite food as they aren’t heavy on the stomach and offer the ease of eating during different occasions—binge-watching at home, at office, or seeking a quick bite on the go. “Indians are increasingly warming up to the concept of burgers more so with brands presenting different formats, right from the quintessential fast food to trendy and now gourmet burgers, it is a satisfying meal,” says Moksh Chopra, chief marketing officer, KFC, whose iconic Zinger Burger is signature crispy, juicy, 100% chicken fillet. Zinger Burger was welcomed at the Madame Tussauds Museum as the ‘Original Celebrity Burger’ in India in 2019.

Trends like binge-watching or special treats on an otherwise mundane day are setting in and this has worked well with offering complete meals options. “With value and variety, both in menu and offered combos, we cater to different group sizes and occasions,” adds Chopra.

Restaurants, too, have revised their design and order approach to the ever-growing delivery market. For instance, Burger King plans to introduce concepts like drive-throughs, food lockers, conveyor belts and al fresco dining rooms soon. A QSR brand like Subway that serves made-to-order sandwiches and wraps plans to expand to more than 2,000 new restaurants to open across India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh in the next 10 years. The brand has signed a master franchise agreement with Everstone Group, a South Asia focused leading private investment firm.

According to ‘Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Market in India 2021’, a report by ResearchAndMarkets.com, during the FY 2016 – FY 2020 period, the QSR market increased at 17.27% and is now expected to reach ~Rs 827.63 billion by FY 2025. QSR has gained popularity due to growing eating-out habits, rising disposable income, changing lifestyle, and the online food delivery system’s growth. Both chain QSR and standalone QSR segments are expected to contribute equally to the market’s development during the forecast period. Major players operating in the Indian QSR market include Burger King India, Jubilant FoodWorks, Burman Hospitality and Jumboking Foods, among others.

Localisation is key

Innovations—taking into consideration local insights and nuances like the Zinger Tandoori—helped deepen consumer connect with KFC. “We brought back the Double Down Burger—the all-chicken, no bun burger that was a chicken-lover’s dream come true. Consumers love the signature taste of chicken, and we continue to explore different formats. The strategy is to deepen our brands’ relevance while retaining distinctiveness,” says Arora. This year, KFC introduced a new range of value burgers starting at Rs 69.

Local flavours have inspired many hero products in the menu such as McAloo Tikki burger, Maharaja Mac burger (a non-beef version of Big Mac). “We are a global brand with local appeal and burgers are our core category. We introduce new products based on food and beverage consumption occasions and tastes and preferences. India was McDonald’s first non-beef market and the first market to introduce a vegetarian menu,” says Rajeev Ranjan, chief operating officer, McDonald’s North & East, who feels local culture and religious beliefs prevail and influence food habits in India.

McAloo is a product available for a long time. Some recent launches include Dosa Masala burger, Schezwan burgers in vegetarian and non-vegetarian variants, chaat twist McAloo Tikki burger, and noodle masala seasoning.

Affordability in pricing, for instance, the three-piece value meal start at Rs 99, menu localisation with vegetarian menu (McAloo Tikki burger, Dosa Masala burger, Pizza McPuff, McVeggie burger, Maharaja Mac (veg) burger, McSpicy Paneer burger, Paneer wrap, Dosa Masala, are a few factors that have found takers for the brand. In the last decade, Burger King introduced black burgers in Japan and the UK as part of the limited-edition Burger King Halloween line-up. Barcelos, too, introduced black burgers in 2015 as consumers ate only to experience the product.

The mania is not new

Let’s not downplay the original version of our homemade aloo tikki sandwich in mini burger buns with chutney spread, onion and tomato slices. Traditionally, Maharashtra is known for its vada pav that can never be underestimated for being an anytime street snack or bun maska to quench tea-time hunger pangs. Goan Chorizo pao is made using Goan sausages, a perfect breakfast or evening snack.

While brands attract ever consuming generations with ‘Made in India’ quirky burgers by Burger Singh, there is also the ubiquitous falafel wrap which has its controversial origin. It is said to be from Egypt, but this street food is now a popular wrap in India, North America, Middle East, Mediterranean and Jewish neighbourhoods, and restaurants, served in pita bread with veggies, falafel balls and tahini dressing. News reports reveal how its popularity made McDonald’s reintroduce McFalafel to Israeli restaurants in 2021, a decade after it presented McFalafel in Israel in 2011 but removed it from the menu due to low take off. American hot dogs are another favourite sibling of hamburgers that go well with the city’s upbeat culture.

Make it a special meal

Brands feel the need to stay relevant to introduce signature taste, collaborate campaigns around celebrities who help consumers familiarise with the brand. KFC’s recent campaigns feature celebrities Anil Kapoor and Prakash Raj, as they expressed their displeasure about bun tikkis posing as burgers as well as The Great Khali who felt quite reinvented since he tasted the #KhaliOfAllBurgers, The Double Down.

Ingredients, according to Kalra of Massive Restaurants, are game changers. A special mature-aged-imported cheese, milk-washed inhouse buns make a difference. “It’s a becoming a preferred meal and there is a huge possibility of growth as it still hasn’t reached the mainstream mindset as a meal replacement. However, that is quickly changing as millennials love the ease of eating aspect as well as its ability to travel well in the delivery process,” says Kalra.

A crowd favourite, there is also a huge surge in demand for freshly made burgers in recent times. BOSS Burger by Impresario Handmade Restaurants provides non-gourmet restaurant-style burgers to those in the comfort of home. “We have not allowed convenience to take precedence over taste. It’s not the same old frozen patty out of a freezer cooked in a fat fryer. Breads baked, salad and fresh ingredients with flavour blend an innovative concept. Besides burgers, there’s a range of fries, wings, nachos, dips, lemonades, shakes and desserts to go with the Holy Guacamole! Black Bean Burger, Truffled 3 Cheese Tenderloin Burger, Juicy Lucy Mutton Burger, Ring Is King! (BB Special Onion Rings) and the Piri Piri Chicken Wings,” says Jaydeep Mukherjee, brand head, Smoke House Deli, who supports Cloud Kitchen development at Impresario Handmade Restaurants.

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