Few things are more American than fast food. The spices and grease of KFC, the thick cheesy crusts at Pizza Hut, the vague aura of sadness surrounding any McDonald’s – these are quintessential parts of the middle-class American experience. Even China hasn’t withstood the unhealthy lure of Western fast food. When the first KFC opened in 1987 Beijing, few would have guessed that in 20 years, it would be the number one foreign restaurant brand in all of China.
Analysts have written books detailing the secrets to KFC’s success in China. Any company’s success is the result of many factors, but one factor analysts often cite is that that they weren’t afraid to experiment with “Kentucky chicken with Chinese characteristics”. While certain menu items are expected of all American fast food (fries, soda) KFCs in China also served fast food versions of more traditional Chinese food. Their product localization was suburb, and the most successful Western chains all followed their example.
KFC sells breakfast rice porridge at many Chinese locations.
Classic KFC set meals with rice, mushrooms, corn and soup.
Another huge component was associating the brand more with luxury and indulgence, rather than “desperate, pathetic 1AM chicken cravings,” as it’s thought of in the United States. Although this model was primarily implemented in the early days of KFC, it helped justify the costs of importing products from overseas to guarantee the quality. Today, Pizza Hut and Haagen Dazs in China have capitalized on the success of “brand Western food as luxurious” to the point where eating in these restaurants is a kind of status symbol. Pizza Hut serves bacon and smoked salmon pizza, while Haagan Dazs offers delicate morsels of ice cream served in beautiful, gold parlors.
Of course you’ll need wine recommendations for Pizza Hut, how could you think otherwise, you peasant.
This “ice cream hotpot” could be yours for a mere 150 RMB.
Still other restaurants maintain their brand identity and staples the world over. The McDonald’s Chinese menu resembles its American menus so closely that the only minor changes they make may come across as amusing to the uninformed.
From McDonald’s, all the American sides you’d expect…plus corn. You can get it in large or small sizes. Corn is quite American, after all.
Without a doubt, Western fast food in China is here to stay, but which brands thrive and which fail will largely be because of market research and advertising. KFC, at the very least, has pulled ahead of the crowd to earn its place in the hearts and stomachs of Chinese.
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