McDon­ald’s not lovin’ rebel fran­chise

Nelson Mail - - COMMENT&OPINION - HUGH TOM­LIN­SON The Times

McDon­ald’s in India has an un­likely prob­lem: it is strug­gling to stop restau­rants sell­ing its food.

Eight weeks after the com­pany can­celled its fran­chise agree­ment with a part­ner in Delhi, more than 150 restau­rants across north­ern India, re­plete with the fa­mous golden arches, are still churn­ing out the Ma­haraja Mac, a chicken ver­sion of the Big Mac, and a spicy potato burger, the McAloo Tikki.

The US fast food com­pany is fight­ing to re­claim con­trol of its brand after a long and ac­ri­mo­nious dis­pute.

Vikram Bak­shi, an In­dian prop­erty ty­coon, yes­ter­day de­scribed McDon­ald’s ef­forts to force him out as "a coup" and "cap­i­tal­ism gone mad". Through his com­pany, Con­naught Plaza Restau­rants, he has vowed to con­tinue sell­ing McDon­ald’sbranded food and drinks, to the fury of the com­pany.

"It’s like an Amer­i­can soap opera. Maybe they are used to watch­ing these sort of pro­grammes but this is not how things work in the real world," a de­fi­ant Mr Bak­shi told The Times.

McDon­ald’s restau­rants in India serve nei­ther beef nor pork, in ac­cor­dance with Hindu and Mus­lim re­li­gious rules, but that has not dented the brand’s ap­peal. The chain opened its first out­let in 1996, in part­ner­ship with Mr Bak­shi, and now has 400 sell­ing lo­cal vari­a­tions of its menu.

De­spite this suc­cess, the re­la­tion­ship with Mr Bak­shi soured. McDon­ald’s first tried to buy him out and then sought to have him re­moved as man­ag­ing direc­tor of the fran­chise. The dis­pute shut­tled be­tween the board­room and the courts un­til Au­gust, when McDon­ald’s can­celled their agree­ment.

Mr Bak­shi ap­pears un­ruf­fled by his stand-off with the com­pany. Busi­ness is good, he claims. Cit­ing a pre­vi­ous rul­ing in his favour by an In­dian com­mer­cial court, he adds that McDon­ald’s treat­ment has been, "un­just, un­fair, il­le­gal and ma­li­cious".

"They’re try­ing to wind up the com­pany. They don’t care about the 6800 em­ploy­ees . . . or the sup­pli­ers. We have a joint ven­ture with them and we are car­ry­ing on as nor­mal."

McDon­ald’s is said to have tried lean­ing on sup­pli­ers to choke off the In­dian restau­rants, but most have con­tin­ued to sell to Mr Bak­shi as their con­tracts are with Con­naught Plaza rather than McDon­ald’s. Mr Bak­shi says he has sim­ply found re­place­ments for those who caved in to pres­sure from the US.

McDon­ald’s says that Con­naught Plaza is "no longer au­tho­rised to use the McDon­ald’s sys­tem and its as­so­ci­ated in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty," and has said it is reap­ply­ing to the courts to ter­mi­nate the agree­ment.

There are even sug­ges­tions it might tear down the golden arches from Mr Bak­shi’s restau­rants - an ig­no­min­ious end to a once-fruit­ful part­ner­ship. the at­ten­tion of the guard just added to the thrill. The ev­i­dence of this par­tic­u­lar brand of fun can prob­a­bly still be found amongst the riverbed’s stones.

My adored ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents lived in Tai Tapu, south of Christchurch, and each May our fam­ily trav­elled south. My first trips down the east coast high­way were in New­man’s tall teal-blue buses. We boarded these roar­ing, wheez­ing leviathans in Rai Val­ley after a dark and chilly early morn­ing start fol­lowed by the wind­ing two-hour drive in the Land Rover from our Waikawa Bay home.

It was a long day but filled with small ex­cite­ments: the first sight of the foamy aqua and navy-blue sea at the Ure, spot­ting seals lolling on the pink­ish bar­na­cled rocks fur­ther down the coast, the whale bone arches in the town­ship’s gardens, and the thrill of driv­ing through the road tun­nels just north of Oaro.

The bus stopped at Kaik­oura for lunch at a bright blue tea­rooms tucked un­der the town’s es­carp­ment. We ate ham sand­wiches (no mus­tard please) and sausage rolls with bright red to­mato sauce and were al­lowed a straw­berry or ba­nana milk shake nois­ily whizzed up in a tall metal beaker.

If a train rat­tled along­side the high­way, we al­ways waved to the driver and were of­ten re­warded with a wave and a toot of the whis­tle. Oh the ex­cite­ment!

All that was a long time ago, but those happy jour­neys mean we both have a great af­fec­tion for the east coast high­way, de­spite aban­don­ing it for the shorter Lewis Pass route to Christchurch for most of our adult years.

The high­way south of Blen­heim was nearly empty of traf­fic. There still tipped with snow, ap­peared like dra­matic di­vas be­hind the back­drop of spring-green hills and dark bush.

The road has lost its even sur­face and at ev­ery bridge, no mat­ter how small, your ve­hi­cle’s en­try and exit is marked by a gen­tle but def­i­nite bump. The land has dropped away or all the bridges have popped up – ei­ther op­tion speaks to the power of the Novem­ber quake. Road signs tilt to­wards the sea and tele­phone poles in­cline away from the ver­ti­cal as they climb the hill­sides.

The driv­able road ends just south of the Clarence River. The bridge is one-way with a 10kph speed re­stric­tion, sug­gest­ing it needs ma­jor re­pair and strength­en­ing work. Up­stream and down, the vast riverbed has been turned into a shin­gle quarry.

On the south side of the bridge are a pair of 1.8m Cy­clone gates and a sort of guard-house where any­one en­ter­ing the work zone must sign in. We turned the car for the jour­ney home, feel­ing con­spic­u­ous in our sedan amongst the con­struc­tion ve­hi­cles, un­der­dressed with­out the east coast uni­form of hi-vis and hard hats.

On the way home we ate our sand­wiches and drank our ther­mos cof­fee on the empty stretch of beach near Val­halla Road, south of Kek­erengu. The sun shone. There was not a breath of wind. The North Is­land was a clear grey hump in the dis­tance with one feath­ery cloud sit­ting above Cape Pal­liser and waves thud­ded onto the sand and gravel shore.

De­spite all the dam­age, the east coast route re­tains its edgy charm. On a calm and sunny day, few New Zealand roads com­pare. We’re look­ing for­ward to driv­ing its whole length some day soon.

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