Forget cheap nachos, Taco Bell is going hipster in India

Want some tequila cocktails with your tacos?
Want some tequila cocktails with your tacos?
Image: Reuters/Fred Prouser
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Taco Bell is finally waking up from a six-year-long slumber in India.

One of the world’s largest Mexican fast-food chains, owned by Yum! Brands, Taco Bell has been selling tacos and burritos in India since 2010. But Taco Bell is now looking to shed its fast-food tag here and invest in upmarket flourishes in its restaurants.

“We don’t want to be a regular fast-food chain but something above that,” Ankush Tuli, managing director of Taco Bell India, said, noting that the Indian market has evolved from five years ago when fewer people were aware of Mexican food.

Today, India’s urban households have developed a more adventurous palate, inspired by food festivals and foreign cooking shows such as Masterchef. As a result, the chain cannot rely on its potato tacos as a match for the country’s growing appetite for higher-end dining experiences.

So, its newest outlet in India’s capital, New Delhi, moves away from the orange-and-white interiors that its first six restaurants in Delhi and Bengaluru are known for. Instead, the restaurants—much smaller in size—feature red brick walls, dim lighting, and graffiti that spells out the words ‘quesedilla’ and ‘nachos’ in Hindi.

The menu has been upgraded, too. Gone are the cheap Rs39 tacos; in their place are loaded nachos, taco-sliders, and Mexican fries that are between 10% and 15% more expensive than before.

“We don’t want to play the low-price game like other fast food chains,” Tuli explained.

Customers can now order table service at the restaurant, as well as beer-on-tap and tequila cocktails, which are served in very few markets outside the US.

Why the change?

These changes come after Yum! Brands spent two decades building up KFC and Pizza Hut in the country, opening nearly 800 restaurants, while leaving Taco Bell on the backburner.

“(That) was a conscious decision… because we really wanted to build the burger and pizza market with KFC and Pizza Hut here before getting to Mexican food,” Tuli said, adding that in the 1990s, when YUM! entered India, the country was familiar with burgers and pizzas.

On the other hand, Mexican food, with ingredients similar to those of Indian food, never had its moment here. But now, in cities such as Delhi and Bengaluru, the concept is picking up pace thanks to chains such as Chili’s and California Burrito. To keep up with local trends, food and beverage maker PepsiCo launched its billion-dollar nachos brand Doritos in India late last year.

For Taco Bell, this small but growing acceptance of the cuisine is good news.

The brand’s makeover in India comes at a time when YUM! is focussing on Taco Bell globally to grow from 280 international restaurants to 1,550 by the end of 2023, Bloomberg reported in December 2015.

Closer home, YUM! has tied up with a local franchise partner that plans to add five new stores in markets such as Chandigarh and Hyderabad. There are plans for restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, and Bengaluru, too.

As the Mexicans would say, buen provecho or bon appetit!