The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp. (IRCTC) has decided to allow well-known fast-food chains to set up food-dispensing machines at railway stations. Over 600 such vending machines would be set up on a pilot basis.
The railways carry 600 crore passengers every year and operate some 9,000 railway stations, providing for a potentially lucrative sales opportunity for the likes of McDonald’s and Nirula’s.
According to P.K. Goel, managing director of IRCTC, while many such vending machines would be installed in larger cities, a substantial number would also be set up at smaller stations.
“These machines will dispense burgers, sandwiches and aerated drinks,” said Goel. The move comes as many food stalls, operated by catering licensees, are being closed by the railways because of hygiene issues.
There is scepticism about the plan, though. Marketing consultant Harish Bijoor is not convinced that automated food vending machines will work. “Indians are particular about eating fresh food and so I am not sure whether this (vending) might be the best idea,” Bijoor said.
According to Sudipta Sen Gupta, senior vice-president (marketing and sales) of Nirula's Corner House Private Ltd, fast foods are ideal for railway passengers who are usually in a hurry. Nirula’s is setting up outlets at the New Delhi railway station as well as the Kashmere Gate metro station. “I cannot comment on the proposed vending machines as the idea has not been tried out at railway stations before,” she said.