Christina Moniz, Financial Express
August 11, 2023
Pizza chain Domino’s recently unveiled a Rs. 49 pizza, its cheapest anywhere in the world. At $0.60, the pizza chain’s seven-inch cheese pizza is priced far lower than Domino’s in China (where $3.80 is the cheapest option). As per media reports, the rising inflation has caused Jubilant FoodWorks, which runs Domino’s outlets in India, to see a 70% slide in profits in the first quarter of CY23.
Competitor Pizza Hut has launched its Flavour Fun range, offering 12 new pizzas in five different sauce flavours, starting at a price of Rs. 79, which is easy on the pocket, especially targeted at young consumers. “We further stabilise costs by rolling out value deals from time to time such as 1 Plus 1 (two personal pizzas at Rs. 299 each), a Hut Treat Box for four starting at Rs. 799 and My Box deals starting at Rs. 229 for solo consumption. While food inflation is projected to persist, QSR brands must demonstrate agility and innovation in their offerings to effectively engage with customers,” says Merrill Pereyra, managing director, Pizza Hut India Subcontinent. Despite the competitive nature of the QSR market, he remarks that the rising purchasing power of consumers opens up promising opportunities for brands to expand.
Get the drift?
Crisil says the cost of a vegetarian thali rose 28% in July on the back of high tomato, onion and other raw material prices. With consumers also cutting back on eating out and discretionary spends, brands are bending over backwards to serve offerings at attractive prices to drive up footfalls .
Other fast food chains in the country too are rolling out value meals and snacks to appeal to price-conscious consumers. Burger King India announced its latest value range of ‘Tasty Meals’ starting at Rs. 99 to encourage dine-in consumers, while KFC too has unveiled its snacker range, featuring its most popular offerings like the classic chicken roll and chicken popcorn, at Rs. 99. McDonald’s India (West and South) also recently unveiled a campaign showcasing its easy-on-the-pocket McSaver meals at Rs. 179. McDonald’s India (North and East) made headlines with its decision to temporarily drop tomatoes from their products due to quality concerns and supply shortage.
This is just the second quarter of the current fiscal, but Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight, observes that the trend among QSR brands is to absorb costs or reduce expenses rather than raise prices and risk a drop in footfalls. Most brands are hoping to keep consumer demand up and make up for the loss in margins in the second half of the financial year.
That would be a 1% hit on margins on account of inflation, say experts.
Pramod Damodaran, CEO, Wagh Bakri Tea Lounge, has a slightly different take. Noting that food input cost is just one cost item for a QSR brand, he says that most companies make gross margins of over 60% on each order. These margins are without taking into account costs of labour, rent, etc. “The new price points are designed to drive more walk-ins and new customers. The menu is vast enough to get consumers to eventually spend more after they walk in. Customers often buy a small burger but that is not a substantial meal and so they need to buy fries or other sides, which have higher margins. Most QSR chains find a way to pass on the inflation-added cost to the customer,” says Damodaran. For example, he says, if the inflation rate is at 5% this year, restaurants may increase the price of certain items on the menu by 3% for the first six months and by another 3-4% in the next six months, thus covering the additional input cost.
Focus on efficiency
The fact that brands have launched affordable, lower-priced offerings may have landed them in a slightly tricky situation, says Rajat Tuli, partner, Kearney. “The value offerings at lower prices have encouraged trials and new customer walk-ins, but existing customers are also opting for these. That has resulted in a lower average ticket size, while the cost to serve stays the same. Order volumes have grown but average order values have stayed the same or reduced, which could be a challenge if the trend continues,” he points out, though he adds that gross margins in the current quarter have shown improvement over the last quarter. Fast food chains need to bring in more efficiencies in cost, streamline processes and introduce more digitalisation.
It is also something that McDonald’s India (West & South) is working towards, says MD Saurabh Kalra. Noting that inflation is not new to the company in India, Kalra explains, “Recognising that food inflation is a domestic truth, over the years, we have developed tools and strategies to manage it effectively. This is attributed to our strategic management of our supply chain and product mix, as well as our cost initiatives. We have been successful in managing our costs and in maintaining healthy margins.” Further, with the reality of global warming, there will be pressures on agricultural output.
Kalra argues that enhancing efficiency and adoption of new technology are the only ways to create long-term solutions, something that McDonald’s has been doing globally too.
(Published in Financial Express)