Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Nirula's to go national...

And about time isn't it? The chain which pioneered the 'peeja' and burger culture in Delhi is finally getting its act together. But now, with the Macs, Pizza Huts and Dominos firmly established - is it too late?

Once upon a time, whenever I visited Delhi, a trip to Nirula's was a cherished ritual. We had 'Open House' and 'New Yorker' in Bombay but they paled in comparison. "Why doesn't Nirula come to Bombay?" I would sigh every time I finished eating there.

Well, Nirula continued to expand in Delhi and in the northern region. But somewhere along the way, things changed. Mention 'Nirula' and my younger cousins would wrinkle their nose and declare,"Ab wahan koi nahin jaata hai".

In short, the young and cool crowd abandoned the eatery, although Nirula's still remained numero uno when it came to ice cream. And legendary for its 'Hot Chocolate Fudge'.

Of course, competition was bound to affect Nirula. But it didn't try hard enough to stay ahead. Nirula broadened its menu to include everything from chhole bhature to Indian meals - which was not a bad idea in itself. But the decor, the menu, the overall brand - all remained frozen in time.

As one kid puts it,"Nirula is the place where you go when you can't agree on where to go...". Another was more blunt and said,"It's the place where fat Punjabi aunties in polyster suits go to pig out". But of course, that would describe just about any fast food restaurant in Delhi!

The bottomline is Nirula's may seem thakela but it still has customers. And more importantly, a lot of goodwill. That's what Malaysian food company Navis Capital Partners has paid Rs 90 crores for. Of course, they know it's not going to be easy...

DNA reports: "The idea is to revive the Nirula's brand and make its presence felt across the country..." Moreover, the takeover also signifies a major revamp of all its outlets in Delhi. "Although we have decided to retain the name, we do plan to spruce up most of the outlets."

The menu will also change but some of the flagship products like the Big Boy Burger will be retained.

I think food is one area where Indian chains can give a run for the money to international chains. Because taste is a huge issue.

Everyone from Mac to Pizza Hut has been struggling to hit the right note. They've had to 'spice' up their menus, add paneer and otherwise adjust to Indian tastebuds. That's where the local guys have an advantage.

Where local chains lack is in systems, scalable models, big advertising budgets and an overall vision of where they want to be, say 10 years from now. With an infusion of capital, there's no reason Nirula's can't bring in the talent and the temperament to overcome those problems. And give the global giants a run for their rupee.

Better late than never... Let a new era of burger/ bhature battles begin!


  1. The Big Boy Burger is an eternal favorite... has been since I was in school (it cost Rs. 21 at that time, afair) and the Nirula's at Priya cinema was a cool place to hang out. And then came Mc-D with the Rs. 12 burger... opened shop right next to the same Nirula's. Of course, we were school kids, and quick to switch loyalty... partly because of Mc-D's competitive pricing thing (Rs.21 and Rs.12? easy choice) ... and partly because... heck, Mc-D was the American way of life... or at least that's what we used to think at that time. Can't say if its a coincidence, but it was the same period when the cell phone was catching on, people had started knowing abt the Internet, it was a period in flux... culturally speaking... at least what culture meant to the urban Delhi youth.

    And now, Nirula's is going national. Don't know if that's the right way to put it. Because interstingly, Nirula's has been "international" for quite some time now. I stumbled upon a Nirula's once in Kathmandu (imagine my joy). That was many years back... and afaik, there is/are Nirula's joint(s) in the Gulf too. Now not exactly a multi-national in the accepted sense... but still, some feat to boast of for a place "where fat Punjabi aunties in polyster suits go to pig out." ;-)

  2. Good post :-)

    Well,I don't think that it's any late fo r the Narula's to go National,infact the idea can be directly compared to the PVR opening its centres in the south(the new one in Hyderabad) where IMAX was already leading the race.Yes,IMAX still might have more customers when compared to PVR,yet PVR is not doing that bad either,infact it is becoming increasingly popular.

    Moreover,since the public is on a constant lookout for a change,any food-chain that can adjust to Indian tastebuds can give it a try :-)

  3. I dont think MNC chains like McD etc. have any problem in India adjusting to the Indian taste. After all they employ Indian employees only. Pizza hut and McD's indianized offerings are quite popular. What the MNCs initially got wrong was the pricing; now they have got that largely right too..

  4. Nice post. I like the way you write articles not just about the so-called controversial topics, but also about day to day stuff. And they are far from mundane. I admire your blog posts for the background research done on them, supported with links etc, giving readers an all round perspective.

    -Sneha (http://vegetariandelight.wordpress.com)

  5. Hi Rashmi,

    But after the sale to the malaysian company, Nirulas is Indian/local just in name. It is now a foreign company. I dont think it will catch up with the likes of McDonalds and Pizza Hut. They are too late. Plus , they dont have that image as others have, as you elaborated in your post.

  6. Indian taste buds are unique in the world and hence I believe that both burgers and bhatura ot for that matter pizza and samosa's will have thier patrons in this country. For Indians eating is just not about filling the stomachs, it about enjoying the food. With increase in number of working couples, India will see a dramatic rise in comsumption at such stores. So its good time ahead for them!!

  7. i maintain that no one can do better tasting food than nirula's. i detest subway. i like just ONE kind of domino's pizza ( thin crust with cheese and olives, thank you ), dont go near the mc burger or their wraps..but yes, gimme my jamoca almond fudge, my cheese and mushroom pizza slathered with the nirula'a mustard sauce ANY day...

    nirula's..i think, lost out due their relatively less enthu levels of service, slick packaged experience feel; their very same years old presence became a handicap.

    but our hungry hordes and rising disposable incomes will ensure that nirula's at least wont be ever out of business. at best, it will give the multi-nats more than a run for their money....

  8. similar to nirula's v had Kailash pav bhaji, which waqs very famous a decade back. I remember my father taking me to the packed place and eating out there, every sunday. bu now, with the advent of the new entrants, it has lost its sheen. Likewise, Karachi dept stores, has bowed to the mighty BIG bazaar, trinethra, etc... jus can't help the travails of globalisation...

  9. You are making us hungry.

    Basically the game has barely even begun. McD was a flop in Japan. The Indian scenario is totally unpredictable and that's really the fun part.

    I expect McD to last, because Indians have a greater acceptance for American products. It is a matter of time before more fast food chains come up.

    Does anyone know if McD is selling burgers at less than cost? That would perhaps be illegal.

  10. Your views are welcome change. Now we should think to promote desi brands. However it is very tempting to even think of a hot burger in this fine rainy season here in Mumbai. Somebody is confusing us who r not resident of Dilli whether it is Nirula as u have mentioned or Narula as Manish is calling.

  11. Interesting.
    The next time I go to Delhi, I will try Nirula's.

  12. Hot Chocolate Fudge has been the answer to all problems...Bad result...lets go ahve an HCF or fight at home...HCF...as long as they don't do away with it...Nirula's rocks...

  13. Nirulas in its current state is nothing more than a blasst from the past.

    Hope it is able to revive itself.

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