In addition to Amritsar, McDonald’s famed golden arches will be taking up residence near to the second busiest pilgrimage spot in India; in the foothills of the Vaishno Devi shrine in the small town of Katra. Around 8 million pilgrims pass through the latter annually, while the Golden Temple attracts tens of thousands of visitors a day from the global Sikh community.
McDonald’s are likely to face protests over their plans to open restaurants in two of India’s most revered religious centres and pilgrimage sites.
While McDonald’s, home to the Big Mac and universally associated with meat-induced fast-food, have never served beef in India since opening their in 1996 due to the obvious local sensibilities, they do sell lamb and chicken burgers, in addition to chicken nuggets, lamb sausage muffins and fish burgers. The new restaurants will be purely vegetarian having developed a new menu in an effort to win over a seemingly reticent and apparently untapped Indian consumer.
Rajesh Kumar Maini, a spokesman for McDonald’s in northern India, told AFP: “There is a big opportunity for vegetarian restaurants as many Indians are vegetarian.
“At the moment, India is still a very small market – we just have 271 restaurants in India, and across the world, we have nearly 33,000.”
While Vikram Bakshi, who manages McDonald's restaurants in east and north India, told the Economic Times
: "We see a huge potential [for making money from vegetarian outlets] as, by nature, Indians are religious,"
The McVeggie, a patty of carrots, peas with potato; the McAloo Tikki, a deep fried patty of spicy mashed potatoes which already accounts for 25% of the company’s total sales; and the McSpicy Paneer, a patty of traditional Indian cheese, will form the core of the new 100% vegetarian menu on the controversial sites of the fast food giants' chosen locations.
The plans have already caused quite a stir with the Hindu nationalist group, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, lambasting the restaurants’ proposals as means to “deliberately humiliate Hindus”.
"It's an attempt not only to make money but also to deliberately humiliate Hindus," its national co-convener S Gurumurthy told The Daily Telegraph
. "It is an organisation associated with cow slaughter. If we make an announcement that they're slaughtering cows, people won't eat there. We are definitely going to fight it."
In India the menu is already 50% vegetarian which is a significantly larger percentage than in any other country and its local stores have become largely unrecognisable from their Western outlets, even if McDonald’s have made concessions, albeit of a different nature, in other countries before. In France, for example, you can enjoy Le Big Mac with wine and the company also runs an annual promotion called Le Saga du Fromage, where instead of the usual cheddar, burgers are topped with beloved French cheeses such as Reblochon. In Italy, pasta can be used as a substitute for fries.
Other global chains such as sandwich giant Subway and pizza brand Domino's have also taken measures to adhere to India’s vegetarian sensibilities. Subway, which last year surpassed McDonald's as the world's largest restaurant chain, opened its first vegetarian-only outlet at Amity University at Noida last year, and have subsequently followed up that venture with another in Mumbai two months ago, with a further four planned.
McDonald's serve 69 million customers in their 33,000 outlets acorss 119 countries per day.