(Corrects to make clear the entity is the local franchise operator; adds to show that the company has no immediate plan for a price increase; changes headline accordingly)
By Nandita Bose
MUMBAI (Reuters) - An Indian franchise operator of McDonalds Corp (MCD.N) may increase prices for the second time this year, responding to rising inflation which, along with an economic slowdown, it expects to temper demand growth for at least the next 7 months.
The company, Hardcastle Restaurants, said on Tuesday it could raise prices by 5-6 percent. That follows a 5 percent hike after the government increased the service tax rate in February.
“There is pressure and it’s a tough environment, no doubt. But inflation is at 8-10 percent so we have to hike our prices,” said Amit Jatia, vice-chairman of Hardcastle Restaurants, which owns the McDonalds franchise for west and south India.
He said, however, that the company had no intention for now to raise prices.
Consumer spending in India has taken a hit in the past three quarters as rising food prices, meagre salary increases and the slowest Indian economic growth in a decade hurt buying appetites for clothes, cars and eating out.
With its 1.2 billion people and growing middle class, India is a large market for global chains, though for now most Indians cannot afford to eat regularly in western-style restaurants.
The burger chain said its same-store sales remained under pressure and although they would grow, the increase would not be at the 22 percent achieved in the fiscal year ended March 2012.
McDonalds entered India in 1996 without its signature hamburger, respecting local religious beliefs which mean many people avoid eating beef and pork. It has become India’s largest fast food chain operator selling chicken and fish burgers along with vegetarian items like McAloo Tikki, which has a potato patty, and the McSpicy Paneer, filled with cottage cheese.
The burger chain plans capital spending of 5 billion-10 billion rupees in India over the next 3-5 years, mostly for store expansion, Jatia said, adding India’s long-term consumption growth story remained intact.
McDonalds has 309 stores in the country.
The company plans to add 80-90 restaurants in western and southern India in the next two years.
Hardcastle is also contemplating an equity fund raising to fuel McDonalds’ expansion in the country in the coming years.
“We are in talks with merchant bankers every day and are open to it. But we are considering all our options and that includes debt also. We will be clear with our decision on what instrument we choose in a month,” Jatia said.
In December, Hardcastle Restaurants merged its operations with listed parent Westlife Development Ltd.
Editing by Mark Potter