That’s right. If apart from buying IKEA’s furniture, you were hoping to grab a bite of the famous meatballs, then you won’t be finding them in India.
The Swedish retailer is staying away from the sale of its meatballs in Asia’s third-largest economy, where the consumption of cow meat is considered unholy. “We respect the faiths in India and our meatballs have pork and beef, so we won’t bring that to India,” a top IKEA executive John Achillea told The Economic Times newspaper on Aug. 30. Instead, the retailer, which has dedicated space for restaurants across its stores globally, will be serving an extensive menu of Indian cuisine, including biryani—both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, at least in the city of Hyderabad, where it plans to open its first store in 2018—as well as idli and samosa.
The retailer, which plans to open 25 stores in India over the next decade with proposed investments of Rs10,500 crore ($1578.2 million), will continue to localise its food offerings across different Indian states.
IKEA’s move echoes those of several other foreign food chains that have set shop in India but with menus that comply with local tastes and meat preferences.
The consumption of beef in India is steeped in controversy even though a large population of the country’s citizens eat meat in the form of chicken and fish. That’s because Hindus, India’s majority religious sect, worship the cow and consider it a sacred animal. As a result, the open slaughter of cow meat for consumption is considered a taboo by several political and religious leaders, even though beef is consumed widely across southern and north-eastern states.
The controversy surrounding beef has only intensified over the years. In May, the Bharatiya Janata Party government banned the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter from open markets. However, for now, the ban remains suspended across India.
IKEA isn’t alone in modifying its menu. American fast-food chain McDonald’s entered India sans a beef burger, fearing opposition from hardcore Hindu ideologists. Instead, it has been serving chicken and fish here. In 2014, Burger King said it will not be serving its famed Whopper burger—which comes with a beef patty—in India, instead creating a vegetarian version for the market.
While foreign companies want to invest both time and resources in India, the fear of cultural backlash does not improve the country’s reputation among the global business community. For now though, one will have to make do with idlis and samosas while shopping for table lamps and ceramic mugs.