McDonald’s is closely associated with American fast-food, consisting mostly of hamburgers and fries. However the chain plans to open its first two vegetarian restaurants in India, in 2013. McDonalds’ Olympic sponsorship stirred up some controversy for the brand, but they already succeeded in opening up the world’s largest McDonald’s location in London earlier this year. Now the restaurant chain will be opening two new locations near the Golden Temple in the holy city of Amritsar and the town of Katra. This area is traditionally meat-free and is also India’s second busiest pilgrimage spot.
McDonald’s has a huge international presence, but it considers India to be a largely untapped market. “There is a big opportunity for vegetarian restaurants as many Indian are vegetarian,” said Rajesh Maini, a spokesperson for McDonald’s in northern India. “At the moment, India is still a very small market – we just have 271 restaurants in India, and across the world we have nearly 33,000.”
By going vegetarian, McDonald’s has an opportunity to increase its popularity and presence in areas it previously was not allowed. McDonald’s hopes the double its number of restaurants in India in the next three years. McDonald’s has already made changes to its menu to better serve the country’s large Indian and Muslim population. None of the locations in India serve beef or pork, preparing chicken, lamb, fish and vegetarian options instead.
Some of these special menu items include the McAloo Tikki, a deep fried spicy mashed potato patty, and the McSpicy Paneer which is a patty made out of traditional Indian cheese. However these items may just be a start of what to expect from McDonald’s locations. “Since this is going to be an exclusive vegetarian restaurant, we will have to look at opening more products,” Maini said.
However in India the support for McDonalds’ new locations is not entirely uniform, as many religious groups are opposed to the fast food chain’s further expansion. One Hindu nationalist group called Swadeshi Jagran Manch called McDonalds’ plan to open a restaurant in Katra an attempt to “humiliate Hindus”.
“It’s an attempt not only to make money but also to deliberately humiliate Hindus. It is an organization associated with cow slaughter. If we make an announcement that they’re slaughtering cows, people won’t eat there. We are definitely going to fight it,” said national co-convener S. Gurumurthy.
This outrage toward McDonald’s reflects events from 2001 after McDonald’s was found to be flavoring its French fries with beef fat. Hindus nationalist politicians called for the chain to be evicted from India and vandalism occurred at various locations throughout the country. Plaintiffs representing the Hindus and vegetarians of America accused McDonald’s of deliberately misleading its American customers. McDonald’s responded by saying it never claimed its French fries were vegetarian in the US. The chain also stated that it never used beef or pork by-products at locations in India.
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