From THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, December 06, 2001


Pizza champ

Ratna Bhushan

Tucked away between a bunch of assorted offices at New Delhis happening Anupam PVR Complex, Tricon Restaurants corporate office hardly looms large. Until you walk in, that is. A bold, laminated frame outlining The 10 Pizza Commandments greets you. The commandments range from basics such as fully-cooked pizza base with a mild yeasty taste, to exotic stuff such as smoky, spicy and fiery toppings.

Yet, for all that spice and fire, surely it cant be easy getting convention-bound Indians to toss their biryani, dhoklas and dosas in favour of a Country Feast or an Exotica Supreme?

Pankaj Batra, the 36-year-old Marketing Director (Indian Subcontinent), Tricon Restaurants, attempts an answer, People cant be eating seven times a day. Yet, its a fact that weve been charting a steady course and have our hands full with expansion. Every outlet is beyond break-even and attracts some 800-1,000 customers on a daily basis. Also, dont forget the weekend skew.

So whats working? Batra singles out consistency. The only one area where we relax that rule is when it comes to taste buds, he says. Hence a first-in-its-history and completely vegetarian 100 per cent restaurant in Ahmedabad, with similar all-veggie ones likely to follow suit, though plans for the same havent yet been firmed up.

All the same, 360 degree Indianisation of the menu is not on the cards. So while a chicken tikka topping is fine, a samosa - Dominos style - isnt. The latest menu variations, which industry experts reckon are absolutely critical to keep the consumer hungry for more, are being done to cater to all kinds of taste buds. The next one-month will see non-bread appetisers such as garlic mushrooms and savoury potato wedges, besides six Indian masala pizzas on the menu. A couple of products (the Ham Hawaiian pizza and ice-cream sundae), meanwhile, were struck off the menu some years ago on account of not finding enough takers.

The company is not talking figures, but maintains that India is a critical market in its overall scheme of things thanks to its size and potential. Compared to Asian markets such as China, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines where Tricon has been around for two decades or more, India is a young market. Itll grow, thanks to external factors such as retailing and entertainment, all of which lead to eating out, believes Batra.

The 100 Pizza Hut restaurants across 20 cities by 2004 objective that Tricon is working towards, therefore, will be a combination of standalone restaurants, malls and entertainment complexes.

Meeting which Tricon India is confident about. As Sandeep Kohli, Managing Director (Indian Subcontinent), Tricon Restaurants International, puts it, It is the special eating experience that causes Pizza Hut customers to smile and help the brand earn their lifelong loyalty.

What about pricing? Multinational food chains have constantly been facing the charge of selling over-priced pizzas in India. Add to that Amuls Rs 20 offering, and comparisons are inevitable. Counters Batra, Our pizzas are not the cheapest and are never going to be. But if the value equation is good, the consumer comes back for more. He rules out lowering prices - currently in the Rs 65-130 bracket for a small-sized pizza.

A strategic development on the cards now is the sourcing of all ingredients locally, which is likely to lead to a significant reduction in prices. The chain is currently working closely with suppliers in India to source cheese locally. Tricon has been importing the mozzarella cheese and dough blend all these years, and has some 75 domestic suppliers. The key ones include Bharat Bor Factory Ltd (for Pizza Hut boxes), Elmac Agro India Pvt x Ltd (for sauce, baby corn and red bean among other ingredients), McCain Foods (for fries and smileys), Midas Foods (for soups and cornmeal), Western Hatcheries and Venkys (both for chicken toppings, patties and wings).

Also, effective supply chain management has helped in significant cost reduction in food, transportation and warehousing. Other elements of lower cost inputs, point out Tricon officials, are to do with localisation of equipment and inventory replenishment, which has reduced from 60 to 30 days.

Apart from the existing 22 restaurants under the Pizza Hut umbrella, the additional nine that are expected to throw open their doors before the year-end, have again been selected on the premise of defined trade area. High traffic, high visibility, an eight-minute drive time for deliveries, and 50,000 households within a trade area are reason enough for the restaurant chain to want to mark its presence at a location. The split between dine-ins and deliveries currently stands at 75:25.

Apart from upping its presence in existing cities, the forthcoming months will see Pizza Hut mark its presence in fresh markets such as Surat and Baroda. And while Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Pune have predictably been key performing markets, Batra is quick to point out that outlets in relatively smaller cities such as Chandigarh and Jaipur have more than met our expectations.

Today, the Pizza Hut chain operates through four franchisees - Devyani International in the North, Favorite Food India in Mumbai, Dodsal Indmag in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and Pizzeria Pure Foods Restaurants in Tamil Nadu and the rest of Maharashtra.

On the communication front, the pizza-playing-matchmaker electronic media campaign devised by HTA is expected to be followed by a fresh campaign next year. The TV campaign coupled with advertising on Star Radio and the mandatory consumer-level promotions are bringing in the returns, says the Tricon management. A budget of Rs 7.5 crore has been allocated for advertising for a 12-month period.

Tie-ups with cricket and association with films too will be worked out once the brand comes to scale. A Pizza Pooch kids promotion is a couple of weeks away, in association with leading FMCG and clothing brands.

Internally, Pizza Hut has adopted practices adhering to an umbrella operation by the name of CHAMPS (Cleanliness, Hosptality, Accuracy, Maintenance, Product Quality, Speed). Meanwhile, talks are on with leading FMCG players to serve branded tea and coffee at Pizza Hut outlets. The restaurant has a tie-up with PepsiCos range of products, under which it serves all Pepsi Foods carbonated beverages, Tropicana fruit juices, and Aquafina bottled water. The chain has recently begun serving beer at some of its outlets after obtaining the necessary licenses.

So whats the future growth path in a slowdown scenario? The year 2001 has been our best in terms of expansion, but we are not immune to recession, says Batra. Kohli mentions aggressive growth in India as the restaurants objective. In management jargon, India is very much a star market for Tricon and not just a maintenance market. Time, therefore, to get down the basics. Much like the 10th commandment that reads: eaten by hand.... put away that fork and knife.

Pic.: Pankaj Batra, Marketing Director (Indian Subcontinent), Tricon Restaurants.

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