K Hospitality exploring railway and highway catering- Sunil Kapur
K Hospitality exploring railway and highway catering- Sunil Kapur

Recently, the T2 at CSIA, Mumbai hosted the first ever Mumbai Food Festival at The GVK Lounge by TFS and Performa – the country’s first ever common, state-of-the art luxury lounge. Travel Food Services (TFS) is a part of K Hospitality Corp. K Hospitality Corp today is amongst one of the largest conglomerates in the F&B sector with a dominant presence across major verticals including hospitality, food services and travel retail.

TFS, India’s largest F&B concessionaire in the travel retail sector, is in the process of rapid expansion across all ports of travel including airports, railways and highway catering, while its other associated enterprises under K Hospitality Corp continue to substantially grow their landside operations. Here are excerpts from the interview:

T2 at the CSIA recently hosted the first ever Mumbai Food Festival at the GVK Lounge by TFS and Performa so please tell us about the festival and what reactions did it garner?

TFS was started with the aim to transform the F&B experience of travellers. Mumbai is a city that never sleeps and we wanted to create something that is one of a kind, by offering our guests something extraordinary at the lounge that excites and helps them re-interpret this maximum city through F&B. This was an endeavor to offer our international guests a long lingering thought and flavor of Mumbai and an opportunity to experience local delicacies which they might have missed in Mumbai. On offer were also some lost and rediscovered recipes and spices. The response has been positively overwhelming with the most appreciation coming from our expatriate and celebrity passengers. Infact, the GVK Lounge has been nominated as Asia’s leading airport lounge at the World Travel Awards 2015. Mumbai festival presented authentic local recipes along with unique sights and flavors of Maharashtra. On entering, passengers got a glimpse of a combination of motifs that epitomizes the spirit of Mumbai; A photo booth offered guests an opportunity to wear local turbans and caps traditionally worn by the various local communities that reside in Mumbai, and take pictures to create memories.

The Business Class Lounge exhibits a stand with totems such as torans, jasmine garlands, lemon and chilli at the entrance, depicting the various items used as local fare in homes. The Mahatrashtran themed menu included Malvani dishes- Prawns Koliwada, Chicken Sukhe, BharliVaangi, Bhakri, MasaleBhaat, Amti, that were served in the iconic ‘dabba’ (steel) tiffin along with koshimbir, mango pickle and a lemon wedge. All courses on the menu had been designed to reflect the Mumbai flavour. Guests could sample Kheema Pav, Patti Samosa, Batata Vada and Pav Bhaaji in an enthralling environment. There were special chaat (light snack) counters that served the tangy and spicy favourites such as Dahi Batata Puri, Sev Puri and Bhel on specially printed food grade newspaper to lend it an authentic feel. We also had a palmist reading hands and a photo depicting the scene of Mumbai which was very interesting. We had several celebrity guests who were extremely excited including our Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Ratan Tata who were fascinated by our food and a truly world-class ambiance.

How did the idea of tapping non-traditional locations like an Airport germinate?

Over 40 years we have gradually built an F&B conglomerate which has an aspiration to be world class and has got recognition all over the globe. Initially our focus was only on the landside F&B business across high street and mall locations, and we were committed to developing a F&B franchise with superlative brand equity. After having done so, we realized that we retained the operational expertise in F&B which could be harnessed effectively. 

We were always fascinated with the travel business and had been studying the potential of F&B in the travel retail sector. We entered the industry when it was still in a nascent stage in India. It is a tough business as rentals are very high and the business takes time to mature. With the rising income levels, proliferation of inexpensive air travel and privatization of airports, the travel retail sector is poised for robust growth.  Backed by our experience and learnings drawn from our years in the F&B business, we realized that we could extend and leverage our F&B operating expertise also in the travel retail sector, especially within airports. That became the genesis of TFS which is today one of India’s largest F&B concessionaire in the domestic travel retail segment, catering to about 110 million discerning passengers.  

With several different brands under K Hospitality Corp, what according to you is the most emerging and profitable trend today?

Our landside operations are growing substantially and on an overall basis, our landside as well as travel business are seeing some great traction over the last 5 years. Approximately our landside business constitutes 50 per cent of our revenues while the remaining 50 per cent is contributed by the travel related businesses.

Two key areas we are excited on, first we have seen a great deal of recognition and a strong identity for our Indian food brands of Copper Chimney and Bombay Brasserie, and I personally believe that Indian food was not the past trend, but in reality will continue to be a hallmark of our F&B landscape going forward. Second, for our travel related businesses we have seen great up take for our brands such as Cafeccino and Idli.com that were created in house and now have garnered considerable fan following at airports. Further I believe our concept of Irish House is a huge opportunity with long legs to run, and we are extremely passionate about it.

In India, we constantly work to create new, exciting concepts & brands. As I mentioned currently, in our landside operations we are focused on our key brands Copper Chimney, Bombay Brasserie and Irish House that have been created by us, and I see them as strong and well differentiated brands with different target audiences.

What is your expansion plan for the overseas market?

Presently, we are primarily focused on India although we do also have presence internationally. In the restaurant business, we have done a successful start with franchising of Copper Chimney in Kuwait, where it has become the leading Indian restaurant. We have even opened a second branch there.

At the airports, we are very successful in India as well as in Oman. We may also look to expand in, as a first step, in markets that have a preference for Indian cuisine primarily in the Middle East and SE Asia such as Malaysia, UAE and such other markets. Over time, Copper Chimney has gained in popularity amongst not only Indians, but also among non-Indians. Through my interactions I have seen that people in the US and European markets know what the brand is about and our famous items.

According to you, how is disruption helping the growth of restaurants in India?

I believe, that the rise of online deliveries and new age start-ups is actually helping restaurants with deliveries getting better. Most of the restaurants today give delivery at home or office a great of importance and there is a conscious effort at ensuring food reaches customers as fast as possible after delivery, with most brands trying to ensure it is at your door within 45 minutes to an hour.

Unlike online retail, the F&B segment in India has not seen a tremendous online explosion yet but is well-placed for significant growth. The challenge is that people always prefer to have that touch and feel experience when dealing with any aspect of their food ordering experience. E.g. we have attempted to make our products available to customers through the online channel with a tie-up with www.DeliveryChef.in. So this is definitely a key area of focus for us. Another key aspect of home delivery is packaging – which is crucial as most food items have a short shelf life and people prefer to consume the food fresh.

Which among your brand is your favorite and why?

That’s is a very difficult question to answer as each of our concepts are bespoke and very differentiated brands, and I strongly believe in each one of them. However, I do tend to have a soft corner for Copper Chimney for the taste, its universal appeal and the fact that I have grown up from a small boy with that taste being a significant part of the upbringing. The brand is 43 years old and has successfully retained its position, legacy and food quality all of which with has translated into a strong consumer loyalty and die-hard fan base. Over the years, the brand has strengthened its presence across India and globally presenting the best of North-western frontier cuisine to guests.

What is your take on in-flight catering, which are the airlines partner you have?

In-flight catering is a very competitive business especially considering the direction the aviation industry is taking over the last few years and its challenges. TFS has a close and valuable association with gate group, with whom we operate the current lounge at Mumbai Terminal 2 and we had done some in-flight partnering in partnership with them. Gate group is one of the largest independent global providers of products and services related to a passenger's onboard experience. However, currently this is not a key focus area for us, at least for the foreseeable future.

When will you start with railway and highway catering? And what would be the plan?

We believe there are significant opportunities in both railways and roads – where we can provide a transformational experience for travelers. We are exploring these businesses as it is still early days. And we understand the opportunities including tenders floated by the government. These companies could be the government agencies which are giving out space for highways and railways such as IRCTC. For highways, we are looking at operators of hubs of highways like on Mumbai-Pune expressway.

Our railway catering would either be on the platform or could be delivery to inside the train through e-catering, because it’s all related to people on the move. Recently we won the tender for the Vishakhapatnam railway station and we are excited to bring our skills to attempt to effect transformational change in the F&B experience of travelers.

What are your quality order standards with suppliers?

We are among the few Indian companies which send in-house quality & audit team to suppliers to examine and scrutinize their standards and we ensure they are certified by the necessary government authorities before we start business with them. We, however, do not just follow generally accepted standards but in addition attempt to enforce higher standards on the products & supplies we receive. We don’t allow compromise in the aspects of handling of the products and freshness of the products we serve, and take all customers complaints extremely seriously.

How do you manage the large pool of skill set?

Our staff is our strength. In K Hospitality Corp we are proud of our over 4000 staff members, who we train in-house. Across all operations, we hire skilled labor but also give opportunity to grow to unskilled people and ensure they undergo rigorous training to inculcate them in our organization. We also have a very flexible HR policy that allows to us to ensure that we give exciting opportunities to youngsters by offering them the opportunity of working in different verticals as they progress in their careers.

What is the supply chain process at your end and who are some of the major suppliers?

We have a very robust supply chain process which is almost like the spine of the organisation that sustains it. We request for tenders and operate in a systematic and transparent manner.

Please tell us about K Hospitality?

The Group is instituted on a strong heritage of over 40 years in the hospitality and food service industry. It was founded in 1972, by my father, the late J K Kapur, with a single Indian restaurant in Mumbai. K Hospitality Corp has, over the past four decades leveraged its strong operating expertise and has emerged as one of the largest hospitality and food service organizations in the region, with over 400 outlets and 4000 employees. K Hospitality Corp operates across diversified verticals spanning: specialty restaurants, bars, cafes, large scale F&B venues concession management, banqueting, outdoor catering, sports & industrial catering and travel retail.

Following this development, the business segments have now been reorganised into two main business divisions Hospitality & Food Services and Travel Retail. In Hospitality, we have large scale F&B Concession management, restaurant management, under Food Services we have banqueting, catering and corporate food services while Travel Retail includes airport F&B, lounge services and merchandise/convenience stores.

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