Street food in India has a loyal set of enthusiasts of its own. Never mind the cramped spaces, honking traffic and people jostling for space – most continue to relish a plate of masala vada, pani puri or vada pav despite the ambience.
However, over the years, growing awareness about the quality of the food vended on the streets has probably dampened the overall market. There are some who still risk it – either because street food is affordable or they have become inure to possible infections. But as multinational fast food chains take over this segment with focus on hygiene, Indian street food has to fight for loyalty than ever before.
“The name vada pav is like Amitabh Bachchan; it attracts a lot of attention.”
Venkatesh Iyer is one such street food lover but found the quality badly missing. But instead of complaining, he set up Mumbai-based Goli Vada Pav in 2004 to roll out mouth watering dishes. Though vada pav is steeped in Mumbai’s street food culture, it has a pan-Indian following as well. “Indian ethnic fast food is still on the street. It lacks food safety and standardisation,” says Iyer. And though many multinational fast food chains have hygiene standardisation, they lack the ethnic taste and the local touch. Iyer decided to combine the best of both and introduced Goli Vada Pav.
Vada pav, a finger food, falls under the mobile and fast food category. “We can fry 50 vadas from a fryer in five minutes, place it between the pavs and hand it to the customer in no time. You cannot do that with any other product,” he points out. Idli or medu vada, for instance, requires accompaniments like sambar and chutney. This is in turn requires cutlery, seating and hence, more space leading to increase in real estate expenditure. In case of vada pav, those overheads can be limited.
Goli Vada Pav
Founders: Venkatesh Iyer, Shivadas Menon
Focus: Hygienic Indian fast food, especially vada pav
Target: To grow from 130 to 350 outlets in three to five years
Since the promise was to provide high quality, standardised vada pav, the initial phase involved perfecting the process and using technology to help standardise dishes. Assured hygiene and quality ensured instant recognition among its customers.
“The name vada pav is like Amitabh Bachchan; it attracts a lot of attention. In fact, the brand Goli rode on vada pav – initially Goli used to be small on the signage and vada pav was prominent,” says Iyer. Over a period of time, Goli became bigger and vada pav smaller on the signage. Since most of the stores were in good catchment areas in Mumbai, the presence of such a store itself enabled them to build the brand locally. “Food sells through word of mouth,” he points out. And by working on the product taste and standardisation, brand Goli Vada Pav spread like wildfire, attracting footfalls. The pricing is also critical, and by fixing it from Rs.10 to Rs.35, it attracts a mass audience.
Challenges along the way
The biggest challenge was the product itself. “We have learnt about product packaging and perception. To scale up, you require a standardised product, eliminate wastage and pilferage,” he says, explaining the initial challenges the company faced. So, the initial focus was on experimenting with various technologies and then partnering with an American supply chain and manufacturing company.
US-based Vista Processed Foods is a joint venture corporation between OSA Industries and Mcdonalds Corporation. OSA, which has a presence in more than 33 countries, was established in 1928 and they forged a partnership with Mcdonalds for its supply chain requirements in 1955. Vista Foods in India also makes the vada/patti and takes care of the entire back end from sourcing the raw material at the farm level to manufacturing, freezing and packing. Every vada goes through a metal detector and an X-Ray machine that is a completely hands-off process. This fully automated process happens in an HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points of U.S.) -certified plant. This helped Goli to solve its standardisation and wastage issues.
Soon, Goli Vada Pav set up stores in Nasik, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Kolhapur, Sholapur, Belgaum, Bengaluru and Coimbatore. Its customers started to invest in the business by setting up franchises. Goli Vada Pav’s manufacturing and logistics were outsourced, so capital expenditure was very less. Cash flow was never a major issue for working capital or for expansion. The cost to set up one store is Rs. 10 lakh, which includes the interiors, equipments and franchise fee. From the current 130 centres, the target is to expand to 350 plus stores in three to five years time.
Goli Vada Pav is present right now in two states majorly, Maharashtra and Karnataka. It has also established outlets in Tamil Nadu and Andhra, where it would like to strengthen its presence in the first phase. Simultaneously, the reach would be extended to the remaining west zone of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. In the second phase, the company will focus on New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, for which groundwork has already begun. “We have worked on the material, machinery and money, we still need to improve on our manpower and methods – that is team building, training, standard operating procedures and audit,” explains Iyer. The franchises source manpower and Goli’s central training team runs them through an induction program. There is also a detailed follow up training on a quarterly basis.
Street food is considered an important part of any city’s culture, and by ensuring quality and hygiene, Goli Vada Pav is gearing up to firmly secure its place in this segment.
Concept in brief
Hygiene and health issues have always been questioned about Indian street food; more so now as people’s awareness has grown. Goli Vada Pav was conceived to overcome this challenge by ensuring quality, hygiene and product standardisation of vada pav and its variants. The pricing is also kept close to the street price to make it a mass offering.
The popularity of this food chain can be gauged from the fact that its growth has been primarily through franchises that have been established by its customers, who want to be a part of the success story. With a strong presence in Maharashtra and Karnataka, Goli Vada Pav is targeting Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to strengthen its presence, and also looking to venture into newer markets. The target is to grow from the current 130 to 350 outlets in three to five years time.