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  • Pizza continues slicing into India restaurant market

DELHI, India -- When Neelam Mehta hears the question "What's for dinner, mum?" after she comes home from the office, her answer is increasingly the same: "Pizza."

"It's the easiest thing to do. Just pick up the phone and order," Mehta, an Indian exporter with two teenage sons, told Reuters. "I don't have to sweat it out in the kitchen at the end of the day."

Ever since India opened its economic doors in the early 1990s, global pizza chains including Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza have battled for a slice of the country's growing pizza market.

According to Pankaj Batra, director of marketing for Pizza Hut's Indian subcontinent region, pizza's adaptability as a food makes it perfect for the diverse tastes of Indians. "We can localize the product by varying the toppings and the sauce."

Shopping malls are populated by Indian teens eating big, cheesy pizzas -- spiced with curry powder and pepper of course. Middle-class children now have pizza parties and most neighborhood stores sell their own pizzas.

Still, pizza accounts for only a small slice of India's 400-billion-rupee (U.S. $8.7 billion) fast-food business, analysts say.

"Now every restaurant has pizza on its menu, the acceptability of pizzas has grown among Indian customers," said Kapil Chugh, a consultant with market researcher KSA Technopak. "The global fast-food chains are going to be significant players in the Indian market's growth and expansion."

Every day, Domino's sells about 100,000 pizzas from 90 outlets across India while Pizza Hut serves nearly 40,000 customers a day at its nearly 50 restaurants.

Larger pizza chains charge about 75 rupees (U.S. $1.62) for a small plain pizza, about the same as an Indian laborer's daily income. A premium large pizza with lots of toppings costs up to 430 rupees (U.S. $9.30).

As India's largest cheese producer, Amul recently launched ready-to-eat pizzas priced at just 20 rupees (U.S. 43 cents). Today, it sells nearly 50,000 frozen pizzas a day at more than 10,000 outlets in 1,000 towns.

To curry favor with Indian diners, pizza makers have developed a range of Indianized pizzas to tantalize local taste buds: Peppy Paneer; Tandoori Pizza; and Chicken Chettinad.

"We've added more spice and flavor to the pizzas here," said Pizza Hut's Batra.

Indians also are enjoying pizza delivery.

"Customers are relishing the concept of a hot pizza delivered at their doorstep in no time," said Arvind Nair, managing director of Domino's Pizza India. "Indians, long used to only seeing pizzas on TV, or eating them on foreign trips, are finally realizing their unfulfilled desires."

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