McDonald’s, the world’s hamburger giant, has announced it will be opening its first two all-vegetarian outlets. The first restaurant of this kind in the chain’s 57 year history will be located by the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which currently serves 20,000 vegetarian meals a day to pilgrims. The second is set to open near the Hindu shrine, Vaishno Devi.
McDonald’s has a long history of tailoring its menu to suit local tastes. The iconic Bic Mac isn’t sold in India as beef and pork aren’t popular in India. Hindus hold cows sacred so choose not to eat beef, and Muslims see pigs as unclean. Instead, chicken, fish and vegetables are used as a replacement in items such as the McAloo Tikki burger and Maharaja Mac. This new venture is aimed to cater for the 42 per cent of the population who choose to avoid meat altogether.
It is hoped these new all-vegetarian restaurants will help plans to double the number of outlets across India from 271 to over 500 in the next three years. The subcontinent currently represents a hugely untapped market for the chain giant, which has 33,000 outlets worldwide. India has a £7.5 billion a year fast food market which is dominated by local independent restaurants, with just 5% going to chains such as McDonald’s.
However, the proposal to build one of the restaurants at Vaishno Devi has proven controversial among some Hindus. Swadeshi Jagran Manch, a Hindu nationalist group, has said it will oppose the plan as they believe it to be an attempt to “humiliate Hindus.” The group said they would fight the international chain, as they are “an organisation associated with cow slaughter.” Indeed, this is not the first time McDonald’s have found themselves clashing with Hindus. In May 2001, “restaurant windows were smashed, statues of Ronald McDonald [were] smeared with cow dung, and Hindu nationalist politicians called for the chain to be evicted” from India. Considering Hindus make up 80% of the population, there could be a long way to go before the franchise really develops a firm presence and is accepted in India.
This may not be the start to a vegetarian fast food revolution, but if the attempt to penetrate the Indian market is a success, then it could provide a good model for the general concept. It could roll out into other countries which have large vegetarian populations, such as the USA, where 15 million people choose to exclude meat from their diet. Although McDonald’s are making great efforts to cater for all potential customers, it seems a shame the few areas of the world left unspoilt by globalisation will inevitably see this megacorporation spring up and sink it’s teeth in.