NEW DELHI: A 'French' revolution is steaming in the Indian snacks business.
French fries, or fried potato slices, is now perhaps the fastest-growing snacks, not just in fastfood chains such as McDonald's and KFC but for modern retailers and frozen food makers too, growing at an annual rate of more than 30%.
KFC and McDonald's say French fries is among their top three billing items or the largest selling side-dish, while retail chains such as Big Bazaar and Spencer's Retail say frozen ready-to-eat French fries is among their largest selling snack items as it replaces other popular potato basedsnacks like aloo paratha, vada pav or pakoras in urban households. Even frozen food marketers such as McCain Foods now identify French fries as their top-selling product in the country.
"Potatoes are a quintessential part of the Indian eating habit, which is where French fries fit in... they are easily sharable and dippable in ketchup or other condiments, which is inherently how we snack," says Tarun Lal, KFC's general manager for India and surrounding countries.
Lal says almost half of the burger meals sold at KFC include a serving of fries. "The next step in our fries journey is to launch flavours and sauces which are available internationally," he adds. Burger-and-fries chain McDonald's reports a 30% year-on-year increase in fries sales, which is amongst the highest on its menu, a McDonald's India (North and East) spokesperson says.
French fries, sold in little paper sacks in McDonald's and KFC, has been popular in the West for centuries and is estimated to account for more than one-fourth of all potatoes sold in the US, but in India it's a relatively new concept made popular after the entry of American fast-food chains.
Devendra Chawla, president (Food Bazaar) at Future Group, says French fries has emerged as the new-age avatar of 'pakoda' in convenience food category, much like chocolates are replacing ladoos in gifts. "French fries due to its popularity is leading to a reverse category creation, entering Indian homes from fast-food joints since it's easy to cook. It is also emerging as an alternative to current serious snacking for kids at home, replacing chips and noodles," Chawla says.
Retailers say sales of frozen French fries of brands such as McCain, Sumeru and Al Kabeerare growing anywhere between 30%-40% in their chains. Mohit Kampani, president & CEO at Spencer's Retail, says French fries now account for almost 70% of the retailer's potato-based frozen snack sales.
Canadian firm McCain Foods, the world's largest maker of French fries and assorted potato snacks, says fries along with potato smiles are its fastest moving products in India. "A new snacking category is being created and is accelerating," Vikas Mittal, MD of McCain Foods India, says. "Food that cooks fast and doesn't compromise on taste has played a huge role in driving the category." He says growth of products such as fries in India is being driven by factors such as consumer awareness, taste and freshness, and higher freezer penetration at retail stores.
The frozen snack food market is estimated at Rs 800 crore, which includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks, growing upwards of 15-20%. Arabind Das, COO at GodrejTyson Foods, says changing lifestyles and rising incomes are making more and more consumers seek the convenience of stocking frozen snacks.