A pioneer in its category, Fishtro is a Pune based quick service restaurant chain which focuses on serving eclectic seafood and fish dishes alongside vegetarian and chicken. Swati Maheshwari talks to its CEO & Co-Founder, Rahul Chhabra, to find more, exclusively for YourStory.in What led you to start an entrepreneurial venture around food and restaurants?
In theUS, 7 basic meals cover all type of dinner menu. However inIndia, 15 different meals cover only 60% of the dinner menu. 56% Indians are below 25 years of age, 74% are below 35 and with increasing double income families, eating out will just rise with time. The eating out market in India is estimated to be at $15 bn and only 2% of that is with the organized sector. An average Indian eats out only 1.2 times in a month whereas in developed countries like Singapore, an average person eats out 40 times in a month. With an increase in average Indians eating out just from 1.2 to 2.4 times a month, the market virtually doubles. An Indian spends 48% of his wallet on food (54% in rural India and 41% in urban India). Thus, India is a very difficult terrain when it comes to food and major international chains have Indianized their menu up to 65%. As per my understanding, the industry would grow at 35% plus p.a. for the next five years.
The eating out market in India is as follows: Ice cream parlors: 8%, bakery 5%, fast food 21%, Chinese 7%, coffee shops 16%, continental food 13%. South Indian 9%, North Indian and Mughlai 7%, kebabs and tikkas 6%, healthy food 8%. We wanted to get into the food industry in a way that we could scale it up to pan India.
We started with a yearlong research and identified gaps in the fast food sector in India, specifically in the Chinese and the sea food cuisine. After dwelling more into the subject, we realized that even globally there is less competition in the organized format in this particular section and the scope is brilliant. In India, meat & marine products’ consumption is $23bn – expected to be $40bn by 2020. Per capita consumption of meat & marine products in India is 1/10th of Brazil & 1/15th of Russia – which indicates the immense potential for growth.
We launched our pilot outlet in January 2010 and we got some 15000 plus feedback forms with comment options as Needs Improvement, Average, Good, Excellent however 99% of the comments we received were positive; which gave us the confidence to go ahead with Fishtro.
How do you tackle the general issues associated with sea food based cuisine?
Fishtro's core research team had to focus on overcoming the inherent challenges associated with fish and seafood industries’ lack of infrastructural support and consumer perceptual issues like fish odor, fish bones, hygiene concerns and the overall perception that seafood is expensive.
To tackle these, we developed in-house technologies like FTC (frozen-to-cook without any loss in quality and taste of the products) in seafood segment.
Fishtro's products are healthy, odorless, boneless, standardized, offer value for money and are served in your next-door friendly restaurant – throughout the year.
Tell us about Fishtro’s milestones so far.
All the recipes at Fishtro are original, research driven and have been developed by in-house food technologists and chefs. Fishtro has grown from a 3-member team to an 80-member team in less than 2 years. Sales have increased 400% and Fishtro has grown from a single restaurant to four in numbers. Over 200,000 consumers have tasted and appreciated the concept of Fishtro and its delicious menu. Fishtro has won the best menu Innovation and R&D award in India for the year 2011 and shared the winning platform with the likes of McDonalds, KFC and Subway.
Where do you source the fishes from?Our fishes are sourced from India and Vietnam while prawns, chicken and other items are sourced from India alone.
Tell us a bit about your background. What did you do prior to starting up Fishtro?
I come from a business family from North India. I co-founded Sigma Restaurants Pvt. Ltd., an end to end solution for hospitality consultancy in India and co-own brands like Touche - a spa chain and Attica Asia - a premium nightclub in Pune. I worked with HDFC and ING in corporate and investment banking domain for 5 years prior to getting into the hospitality business. During my MBA, I got a chance to go to Essca, France on a scholarship based exchange program which gave me a great exposure early on.
What has been the investment made in Fishtro so far?
The cash investment made in the project is approximately INR 40 million till now.
What are the challenges you faced while scaling Fishtro?
The biggest challenge was getting well processed sustainable sea food in standardized format available throughout the year. We resolved the problem by sourcing it from Vietnam. The second biggest challenge was real estate. We are in a country where the consumer expects third world pricing and real estate cost is at par with the developed countries. The third challenge was getting the supply chain and pricing right. Our vendors like PITCO and VKL have supported us by believing in our vision and extending us the prices and products offered to international chains.
Do you face any direct competition?
No, there is no direct competition as we believe in blue ocean strategy where we have created our own niche in an endeavor to create a new segment in the Indian QSR industry.
What are your expansion plans with Fishtro?
In the next six years we aim to open 560 outlets across India wherein the company owned to franchisee ratio would be 1:3.