How Wendy's Is Building a Beefless Burger Brand for India

Burgers Are in the Zeitgeist in India; Burger King Just Launched Too

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At the first Wendy's in India, cooks flip spicy aloo crunch burgers and serve buns sprinkled with chili, turmeric and coriander. Where's the beef? There isn't any, since India's Hindu majority considers cows sacred. The menu changes are big, but they're just one aspect of how Wendy's is reinventing itself for the new market.

Wendy's debut outpost in Gurgaon, just southwest of New Delhi, has less of a fast food feel and more of a casual dining atmosphere, though prices remain low. (You can get a sense of the atmosphere in the Facebook video above, from VML India.) Meals are served at the table, on proper china plates.

That's one differentiator from other Western chains catering to India's growing legions of fans of beefless burgers. Market leader McDonald's has expanded, Burger King launched in November, and bizarrely even Dunkin' Donuts has gotten big into burgers, because doughnuts don't have enough local appeal. The Times of India recently proclaimed that chains were on the cusp of a "burger war," noting that Fatburger, Johnny Rockets and Carl's Jr. are also new India entrants.

Jasper Reid, director of Sierra Nevada Restaurants, Wendy's master franchisee in India, said the goal is 20 locations focused in the area around New Delhi over the next two years. The company is going location by location.

"For us, it's very important to get this platform and learn from our customers before further expansion in India," he wrote in an email. "One day we'd like to be as big as Wendy's in the U.S.A."

Despite the table service, prices are on par with Burger King's. The focus is on fresh, high-quality ingredients, from mutton to veggies to coffee. "We don't see beef as being so intrinsic to Wendy's that the brand is in any way compromised without it," Mr. Reid added.

Some offerings use local flavors, but there are also smoky chipotle chicken burgers and BBQ bacon clubs. (Other fast food joints in India avoid bacon as well as beef, so that's another brand differentiator.)

VML India, the brand's digital agency of record, is concentrating on Facebook for now, targeting Indians who have traveled and know Wendy's in hopes they share brand messages with friends.

Creating teasers ahead of the launch in early May, "the idea was not to get overwhelmed by the fact that people don't know the brand, but do the opposite and use it to our advantage," said Tripti Lochan, CEO of VML Qais. In the videos, people are asked what Wendy's is (see below). The shots show people making funny random guesses like "it's an island in the Caribbean" and "it means 'crazy' in Gujarati."

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