Q] Even as the lockdown is being lifted, what impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your business and the overall QSR industry in general?
The lockdown has definitely affected the industry because the restaurants were shut. That’s true for the whole industry, but our delivery channels have been active. We were more active in May because April was the peak of the lockdown period. However, the response to our delivery service has been pretty enthusiastic. Also, Takeaway has seen an excellent response from the consumers. We also have the largest number of drive-thrus in India and we have seen a great response, even in smaller cities. But, it is only now that we have opened up dine-in and take out in most states, for example, Karnataka, Kerala, parts of Tamil Nadu, AP, Gujarat. While there has been a significant impact, we have been focusing on restarting operations, taking our health and hygiene standards to the next level, and making sure that we are promoting convenience to our customers.
ABOUT THE BRAND
Hardcastle Restaurants (HRPL) is a McDonald’s franchisee with rights to own and operate McDonald’s restaurants
in India’s West and South markets. It serves over 200 million customers annually, at its 319 McDonald’s restaurants across 42 cities. McDonald’s operates through various formats
and brand extensions including standalone restaurants, drive-thrus, 24/7, McDelivery, McBreakfast and
Media Agency: Madison Media
Creative Agency: DDB Mudra
Digital Agency: Performics.Convonix
Social Media agency: 22 Feet Tribal Worldwide
PR Agency: AvianWe
Q] Many brands have come up with marketing campaigns after the imposition of lockdown. What about McDonald’s?
Very soon! We have been waiting for the lockdown to lift and our operations to resume, which has now happened. So, we plan to bring out our campaign very soon. It will focus on convenience, which is very important in today’s context, across various categories, where people prefer delivery to home, delivery to offices, in case offices resume, rather than going out. Therefore, delivery is going to be a very important channel. We also launched take-away on our app and one can pre-order the food through the app. Now you don’t have to wait in a queue, you can pre-order and pick up your food when it’s ready.
Q] Tell us a bit about McDonald’s contribution to the relief efforts in the fight against COVID-19?
In all our key markets, we have been working with several NGOs and delivering food to the needy people. We are very happy to see that our effort has been successful and we have been able to do our bit for society. In May, we tied up with Salaam Bombay, which works very closely with BMC. One of the issues we realized as far as helping the needy is concerned is that some of the areas receive more food than required while some get nothing at all. Salaam Bombay has got a very innovative mechanism wherein working with BMC, they know which areas really need food, and to focus on that. So we have tied up with them through the months of May and June under our ‘meals for good’ program. Through tie-ups with several NGOs across 6 cities we have been able to reach out to over 56,000 people.
Q] More than 100 McDonald’s restaurants have now re-opened across the country; what measures are you taking to ensure the safety of customers?
There are two aspects here - the safety of our customers and the safety of our crew members. Both are important and we’ve taken many steps to make sure we cater to both. We’ve provided safety gear like masks, gloves, global standard sanitizers to all our restaurants. All our restaurants’ leadership teams have undergone specific training on COVID-19 over the past two months. They have also undergone a comprehensive training to ensure they are completely updated on all health and safety programs. Apart from that, we just launched a 42- point checklist which ensures that our customers and people are safe at every step of the way whether they come to us for delivery, takeout and dining. The checklist ensures regular sanitization and social distancing at every point in our operations. For example, many times when there are a lot of delivery orders and people gather outside the store then the checklist helps the delivery people maintain social distance. We are also doing regular checks of our employees and we are also ensuring contactless operations.
Q] People have now become more health-conscious because of the pandemic. Is McDonald’s coming up with any new variants or making changes in the current menu, keeping the immunity and health factors in mind?
Even before the current crisis, this has been one of our focus areas over the past many years. We have been undertaking various measures and we will continue to keep up those efforts to make sure our customers get the best. We launched a Whole Wheat Buns for our customers a year back and we got excellent feedback. We've also been reducing sodium from many of our food items. We have been undertaking a lot of efforts to improve the wholesomeness of our menu, and also communicating with the customers. And needless to say, all of these efforts have been deeply appreciated by customers.
Q] How do you anticipate consumers to behave in the new normal and what role do you think marketing will play in the post-COVID world for QSR brands?
As far as behaviour is concerned, I think consumers will prefer brands over unbranded, especially the big brands that assure trust and safety. In the context of food, customers would pick up trusted brands as opposed to others in the new normal. Convenience is another aspect, - rather than waiting in crowded areas, people will opt for takeout or drive-thrus, which ensures safety. So convenience is going to be very important. Also, search for value- today’s customers also search for good value for money like propositions, and value for money doesn't just mean low price, but the best value at that price.
Q] Looking at the current scenario, what specific areas will you be focusing on, going forward?
We will be exactly leveraging the three trends that I mentioned earlier. The first is about the fact that McDonald’s is a trusted and safe choice for customers. We have always been scoring very well on brand trust. The second is promoting delivery and takeout i.e. promoting convenience and that’s going to be a huge focus for us in the near future. And finally we will be focusing on value as in this new normal customers are looking for these specific things.
Q] What distinctive change have you witnessed in your business in this overall pandemic situation?
There have been a lot of discussions that Tier-II markets are bouncing back faster than some of the metro markets. And we are seeing some examples of that even in the McDonald’s context. We have a store in Bharuch, which has got a drive-thru apart from dine-in. And in this current situation, sales from the drive-thru in Bharuch is much higher than what it used to be, even when we compare it to past dine-in sales in the stores. We have been pleasantly surprised by those numbers, which really shows the pent-up demand in Tier-II markets like Bharuch.
As the Director-Marketing & Communications, McDonald’s India, Arvind RP spearheads the overall marketing and communications strategy for the brand, to further strengthen its leadership in the QSR space. With over 18 years of experience in Marketing and Sales, Arvind has worked across various geographies and categories such as Retail, Consumer Goods and Automobiles.
Focus on customers as people first, then as consumers.