I have just completed a 10-day vacation across North India. Being an avid traveler, my travel plans are usually frozen at least 2 months in advance, which includes booking of rooms, air / rail transportation as well as ground transportation including the last mile to the Hotel or Resort where we would stay. However. one thing which has always been unplanned, or rather difficult to plan is the place to eat / take a break during such trips, especially while travelling by road. On our last leg today, we drove from Jaipur to Delhi, a distance of 270 Kms which took us around 4.5 hours non-stop. Due to intense Fog in this part of India, we wanted to reach as close as possible to Gurgaon before we took a break. Thanks to constant protests across country on some pretext (currently the NRC) or the other, we decided we wouldn’t stop midway and filled our “tanks” at Jaipur during breakfast. Sadly, the weather played spoil sport and my flight was delayed by over 2.5 hours, thanks to the Fog.
To give a perspective, there are an estimated 40,000+ Fuel Stations across India. Of these, at least 90% of them are branded by PSUs including Indian Oil Corporation which has close to 40% of the outlets, followed by Bharath Petroleum, around 30% and Hindustan Petroleum, around 25%. Lastly, there are the privately-owned OMCs - Oil Marketing Companies such as Reliance, Shell and Essar which are less than 5% in number and growing faster than the PSU OMCs. During my stint at Café Coffee Day in 2009, I signed up two exclusive contracts with Shell and Essar which were riding high on the deregulation of fuel prices which meant that the OMCs could fix the price for Petrol and Diesel. Although they have maintained their prices on par with the PSUs, there are benefits they cater to the consumers beyond filling high quality fuel. For Ex., all Shell Outlets have clean rest rooms separately for Men and Women. Some of them even provide services such as Vehicle Wash and minor repairs. The erstwhile Reliance Fuel Outlets had separate Food Courts from the Fuel Station including independent ingress & egress which was extensively put to use by the company through company managed as well as Franchised / outsourced F&B operations in the name and style of A1 Plazas.
However, the majority of Fuel stations managed by the Dealers of the 3 PSUs do not even have basic amenities such as clean rest rooms which has been a regular qualm of most highway warriors like me. There are exceptions such as the Yamuna Express highway which connects Delhi to Agra with an Eight-lane highway which has three Toll Plazas and each of them have a neighbouring resting area including large food courts housing International and regional F&B outlets.
Café Coffee Day remains the Number One F&B brand in India which has the most number of highway Outlets as compared to any other business house in organised F&B Retail. But this trend at CCD started many years back, beginning with the coveted Bangalore – Mysore State Highway followed by many such Highways across India. Many other regional brands such as Haldirams in North India, Sukh Sagar in the West and A2B (Adyar Ananda Bhavan) and Adigas in the South have cracked the regional markets but none at a large pan-India scale. Perhaps, Indian businesses can take a leaf out of International operators in the US & Europe who have built Billion Dollar businesses around this model.
Personal driving as well as Cab hailing for long distances have become affordable now, thanks to lower cost of owning 4-wheelers as well as many tourist locations across India. Highway Retailing is in it’s infancy in India now and much more needs to be done in times to come.