Next year McDonald’s plans to open its first vegetarian-only restaurant at the foothills of the Vaishno Devi shrine at Katra in Jammu & Kashmir, and another pure vegetarian outlet near the Golden Temple in Amritsar in northern India.
The Vaishno Devi shrine is one of the holy Hindu temples dedicated to Shakti, located in the hills of Vaishno Devi, Jammu and Kashmir, India.
Imagine that, a McDonald’s, the quintessential symbol of fast-food and American pop culture, permanently placed near one the holiest Hindu temples in India.
Now even cherished and coveted cultural landmarks are being abrogated by global corporate icons. I suppose a Wal-mart is soon to follow.
In India, vegetable products account for half of McDonald’s menu and sales. The popular McAloo Tikki burger accounts for 25% of the company’s total sales. And it plans more vegetarian items in its menu.
McDonald’s has 33,000 outlets across 119 countries, and serves 69 million customers daily. An integral part in solidifying McDonald’s global expansion has been to cater to cultures around the world by modifying its menu to assimilate local cultural food styles.
McDonald’s explains on its website that consumers can order a Quiche de Queijo in Brazil, Red Bean Pie in Hong Kong (where red beans are commonly used in desserts), and traditional Caldo Verde soup (made with cabbage, kale, onion, potato and chorizo) in Portugal.
McDonald’s claims that they supplement their iconic menu items with distinctive offerings that embrace local tastes by using what’s familiar and then adding a McDonald’s twist.
“In France, for example, our popular M Burger features tangy, natural Emmenthal cheese and a Ciabatta-style roll baked in a stone oven. In India, where much of the population doesn’t eat beef, we offer options like the potato-patty McAloo Tikki burger and the Chicken Maharaja Mac.”
The Economic Times points out that McDonald’s is not the first global chain to open pure-vegetarian outlets in order to cater to Indians.
Subway opened its first vegetarian-only outlet at Amity University at Noida last year, followed by another at Ghatkopar in Mumbai two months ago. It plans at least four more in the near future.
A Subway spokesman said the chain has received several franchisee inquiries for vegetable-only restaurants in recent months. “We are looking to tap this opportunity aggressively,” he said.
Domino’s has eight restaurants serving only vegetarian pizzas in places including Haridwar, Shirdi and Ahmedabad.
Yum owned KFC and Pizza Hut has opened two fully-veg Pizza Hut outlets in Gujarat and plans to introduce three new vegetarian items in KFC outlets by next February.
“Currently, vegetarian products account for one in every five products in our menu. We want to grow this to appeal to a wider section of consumers which would also lead to incremental sales,” says Tarun Lal, general manager at KFC India.
McDonald’s French Fry Lawsuits
A fairly significant market exists for vegetarian food in the U.S. Based on data in 2009, about 3% of the U.S. adult population is vegetarian. That translates into approximately 6-9 million adult vegetarians in the United States.
But even if McDonald’s targeted the U.S. vegetarian market, and opened a vegetarian-Only restaurant, many vegetarians may wonder if the company could be trusted.
Facing a class-action lawsuit from angry vegetarians, in 2001, McDonald’s confirmed that its French fries were prepared with beef extract.
McDonald’s had claimed that since 1990 its fries were cooked in pure vegetable oil, and insisted it never said its fries were appropriate for vegetarians and always told customers that their flavor comes partly from beef.
The list of French-fry ingredients that McDonald’s then offered at its franchises and on its Web site included potatoes, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and natural flavor. But there was no mention that the ”natural flavor” came from beef.
Harish Bharti, the Seattle lawyer who filed the suit against McDonald’s, said the confirmation that the company uses beef extract to flavor its fries validated his case.
Then in 2009, McDonald’s faced several more lawsuits related to its disclosure that its French fries contain wheat and dairy products.
McDonald’s had claimed its fries were free of gluten and milk or wheat allergens and safe for people with dietary issues related to the consumption of dairy items.
But then McDonald’s later recanted that claim and quietly added “Contains wheat and milk ingredients” to the French fries listing on its Web site.