Macros spook food joints, but only just


August 22, 2012

Priyanka Golikeri & Nupur Anand, Daily News & Analysis (DNA)

Bangalore, 22 August 2012

Now, macroeconomic woes are impacting even quick service restaurants (QSRs), the 150-3,000 square feet neighbourhood dine-in / takeaway food joints that serve up your pizzas, burgers and rolls.

For, the slowdown, it has been found, is changing consumer behaviour and their eating patterns: footfalls are lower and bill sizes smaller. From 350-500 people per day, QSRs are seeing a 10-15% drop in footfalls, said a senior official from a pizza-pasta chain.

Moreover, from two to three visits per week, the frequency of customer visits has dropped to once a week or once in ten days. This is spooking QSRs which have been growing at a fast clip of late.

“What used to be a weekend family eat-out routine is now happening every fortnight,” said Krishna Kumar, CEO of Curries Hospitality which runs a chain of sandwich and pasta joints.

Rising inflation and negligible pay hikes have weakened customers’ propensity to spend on discretionary goods, say experts.

“When there is no hike in salary and the cost of every commodity only goes up, people cannot think of spending Rs400-500 every second day on quick bites,” says the official from the pizza chain. People might eat out, but instead of ordering for a large pizza with cakes and soft drinks, a person might restrict himself to a medium- or small-sized pizza minus the cake, he says.

Kumar says growth this fiscal will range between 12% and 13%, much lower than the 18-20% seen last year.

QSRs account for 18% of the $74 billion informal eat-out sector which includes restaurants that serve traditional Indian snacks like idli, dosa and chaat, as per estimates by market intelligence provider Euromonitor.

QSRs are the most difficult segment in the food market, says Harminder Sahni, MD of retail consultancy Wazir Advisors.

“Players need to get several factors, including delivery and supply chain, right to crack the market. Competition from other organised players having a big brand pull is another challenge.”

Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy Third Eyesight, says players are cautious in the wake of the correction witnessed during 2009-11. “It is not that outlets are closing down. But cooking at home is much cheaper than eating out.”

Nevertheless, QSR chains have their expansion plans intact. Dutta says this is because rentals have dipped and advertising costs have corrected. “Players are taking the opportunity to cement their position. They are cashing in on e-commerce and changing their menus to make it more region- and city-specific than earlier.

These chains are also reducing entry price points to attract more customers.”

Amit Jatia, vice chairman of McDonald’s India, says the company will invest Rs500 crore and add over 150 outlets by 2014 in the west and south regions that he oversees. “We have not seen any significant slowdown in demand and are seeing double-digit growth.” McDonald’s currently has 135 outlets in the two regions.

Likewise, Kaati Zone, the rolls joint, will add 30-35 outlets by March 2013 to its current 32, says CEO Kiran Nadkarni. It will also consolidate in existing markets like Mumbai, Bangalore, Coimbatore and Hyderabad. “QSRs cater to mass markets and are less expensive than fine dining. Hence, they are immune from downturn.”

Kumar says Curries will add 25 outlets to Crusty’s 79 this year in places like Mysore, Chandigarh, Nagpur and Lucknow.