Burger sting!

- October 18, 2018
| By : Shubham Bhatia |

While fast food chains claim that there is a temporary shortage of tomatoes, a visit to wholesale markets reveals that there is abundant supply “I don’t know if you call a burger ‘recession food.’ It’s comfort food,” said Michael Mina, celebrity chef and restaurateur. But what if the comfort food lacks a key ingredient, something […]

P.Sammugham, a 35-year-old vegetable vendor, picks up a tomato to place on a scale at his vegetable shop in Madras 12 March 2003. Sammugham, the sole breadwinner for his extended family of five, earns 250 INR (5.2USD) a day. AFP PHOTO/DIBYANGSHU SARKAR (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR / AFP)

While fast food chains claim that there is a temporary shortage of tomatoes, a visit to wholesale markets reveals that there is abundant supply

“I don’t know if you call a burger ‘recession food.’ It’s comfort food,” said Michael Mina, celebrity chef and restaurateur. But what if the comfort food lacks a key ingredient, something which is red and juicy and probably the most common ingredient in most dishes — tomato.

Not so long ago, McDonald’s and Burger King started putting up notices in their outlets headlined “Temporary Unavailability of Tomatoes.” The notices explain that they are unable to add tomatoes in various products due to temporary unavailability. They further explain the unpredictable conditions which have affected the tomato crop, its quality and supply.

This is not the first time that McDonald’s has taken the red vegetable off the menu — in 2016 and 2017 too they were tomato-less. Last year, hundreds of outlets in Maharashtra stopped putting tomatoes in their burgers due to the same issue.

Patriot visited the Connaught Place outlet of McDonald’s and placed an order of the most popular product — McAloo Tikki burger, to see how the burger tastes like without the usual slice of tomato. On removing the top half of the bun, there was a feeling of something missing. On top of the potato patty was a tomato-based sauce and half a slice of onion.

The customer sitting at the next table looked at the burger and smiled. When asked about the current crisis of tomatoes the restaurant is facing, she said she saw the notice while ordering her food but added, “I usually order their chicken burgers and I don’t feel the need of a tomato slice in them. But they should do something about the tomatoes. There are people who may want it.”

Kriti Sharma, 22, says, “Being a vegetarian, I take tomatoes very seriously. In McAloo Tikki Burger they put only one slice of tomato. There’s nothing more to it. I would pay 40 bucks for the burger which just has bread and patty and that godforsaken orange sauce.” She also thinks that ideally, until the tomato crisis is resolved, McDonald’s should offer discounts on the products without tomatoes. But “They’ve not been very customer friendly, so I don’t expect that from them,” she adds.

There’s more angst on her plate. Sharma says that the fast-food chain has kept increasing the price of the products while decreasing the quality. She gave an example of McDonald’s McAloo Wrap which was under its ‘Saucy Wraps’ menu. According to her, the quantity of the sauce got diluted with time. “They also charge for extra sauce. I wonder if they understand that we’re adding sauce extra sauce because the ‘saucy wrap’ is not saucy anymore,” says Sharma.

A McDonald’s employee at the Connaught Place outlet said the obvious: “We’re currently not serving tomatoes in our burgers.” Asked about when this issue would get resolved, he said, “Soon.”

At an outlet in Connaught Place of popular global QSR (quick-service restaurant) chain Burger King, the store manager said that the problem has been continuing due to failure of crop. Asked about the state from which supplies are sourced, the reply he gave was, “Jubilant FoodWorks handles our supply chain and operations. I have no idea where our tomatoes come from.”

He also said that there were some customers who have asked about the missing tomato slice in their burgers, but, “We told them about the issue and they understood,” the store manager said. Patriot tried to reach out to Jubilant FoodWorks but did not get a response.

To check how the general public feels about the missing tomato, Patriot spoke to other customers and got varying responseS. “I literally hate tomatoes in burgers, they just ruin the taste. I always ensure that my burger is customised before they make it, whether it’s McDonald’s or any other outlet,” says Nishchay Vats.

Vats is somebody who doesn’t like tomatoes in general, whereas Kajal Khatri doesn’t like the quality of tomatoes McDonald’s uses. “They put one soggy tomato slice in their burgers. I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference if they put it or not,” he says.

Prakash Rawal, another customer Patriot spoke to thinks that other QSR chains like Subway are more “liberal with the quantity of vegetables it puts, presence/absence of a tomato or other veggies makes a difference. At McDonald’s or Burger King, one measly tomato slice will not.”

Interestingly, the store manager at a Subway outlet in central Delhi proudly shows the red tomatoes placed on one of the many baskets of the veggie trays of the food counter. “There’s no such shortage or quality issues with our tomatoes. I don’t know about other outlets but we get it directly from vendors in Azadpur Mandi,” he says.

He also says that Subway gets all its veggies from the Azadpur Mandi or Okhla Sabzi Mandi and the store has not faced any issue recently.

A visit to the Okhla Sabzi Mandi, one of the biggest vegetable markets in Delhi, reveals a plethora of stalls selling bright red tomatoes. One such vendor Mohammad Irfan says, “Hamare paas alag alag tarah ka tamatar hai, ab yeh to customer ke budget par hai ki kaisa quality chaiye.“ (We have a wide variety of tomatoes for sale. It depends on the budget of the customer which quality he buys. “Mandi mein toh koi kami nahi hai tamatar ki.” (There’s no such shortage of tomatoes in the market) says Irfan. Like other shopkeepers, he gets the tomatoes from Nashik, and offers varieties that cost as little as Rs 10 per kg to those that go up to Rs 50. “Sabse badiya wala jo ki special order par mangwate hain” (The best ones we get for special orders).

He also said alleged that many restaurants in the city come to the mandi to buy cheap quality tomatoes which cost Rs 10 per kg. He showed a heap kept in a small blue basket, their condition suggesting that they would soon rot.

Kamaal, another shopkeeper in the mandi, alleged that some people from a famous outlet chain come to the market and request for 5 kg tomatoes, which are sold for Rs 20 per kg, to be given to them for just Rs 80-90.

When he was told that there are some restaurants in the city like McDonald’s and Burger King who are claiming to be facing shortage and dealing with quality issues, he said “Unko yaha bhejo na. Hum dete hai achhe quality ke tamatar” (Send them here. We will give them good quality tomatoes).

Patriot tried reaching out to Connaught Plaza Restaurants Pvt Ltd, the company which runs and manages all the McDonald’s outlets in theNorth and East of India. After several calls and a visit to the office, a response is yet to come.

Perhaps McDonald’s and Burger King could go directly to Azadpur or Okhla Sabzi Mandi, as Subway does, and solve their shortage and quality issues.