Fla­vor Chi­nese fast food with suc­cess

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Qing Feng steamed bun chain restau­rant has been pop­u­lar among Bei­jing res­i­dents, es­pe­cially stu­dents, be­cause of its in­ex­pen­sive lo­cal dishes. But it never ex­pected more than 400 peo­ple to queue up out­side its out­let to get a ta­ble and, sur­pris­ingly, or­der the same combo meal. The chain restau­rant’s 21-yuan ($3.46) combo meal has be­come the “Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping combo” from Sun­day, a day af­ter the pres­i­dent vis­ited one of its out­lets in Xicheng dis­trict and en­joyed the dish.

Restau­rants serv­ing rel­a­tively healthy fast food with unique Chi­nese fla­vors have been draw­ing away many regulars from Western fast food out­lets. Their unique sell­ing point is lo­cal dishes at rea­son­able prices. No won­der, they have ac­quired a de­cent share in the fiercely com­pet­i­tive cater­ing in­dus­try and do­mes­tic fast food chain restau­rants such as Kungfu and Yonghe King seem ready to take on their more dom­i­nant Western ri­vals.

Al­though McDon­ald’s has in­vested heav­ily in the Chi­nese mar­ket, its mar­ket share by value has been stag­nat­ing at 2.3 per­cent since 2007, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from Euromon­i­tor, a mar­ket-re­search com­pany. The Chi­nese fast food mar­ket as a whole, how­ever, grew from 263.89 bil­lion yuan in 2008 to 617.33 bil­lion yuan in 2012, and is ex­pected to in­crease to more than 1 tril­lion yuan by 2017.

Frus­trated by food safety scan­dals over the past few years, many Chi­nese con­sumers opted for Western fast food out­lets in search of re­li­able and tasty al­ter­na­tives. But a se­ries of food scan­dals in­volv­ing Western brands last year — for ex­am­ple, quick-growth chick­ens served by KFC and McDon­ald’s — have shaken con­sumers’ trust in the for­eign brands as well. As a re­sult, they are now ques­tion­ing the qual­ity and safety of the food served by Western fast food chains.

More than 60 per­cent of the re­spon­dents to a re­cent sur­vey by 51 Re­port, a com­pre­hen­sive online ser­vice provider for in­dus­try re­search and anal­y­sis, said they pre­ferred Chi­nese fast food be­cause it was healthier and of bet­ter qual­ity de­spite the large-scale mar­ket­ing pro­mo­tion by Western fast food gi­ants.

But there is still a con­sid­er­able gap be­tween Western and Chi­nese fast food chains in terms of mar­ket­ing and ser­vice. As a con­se­quence, restau­rants of­fer­ing tra­di­tional and healthier fast food find it dif­fi­cult to make their prod­ucts more ac­cept­able to the peo­ple. Chi­nese fast food restau­rants have to make more ef­forts to catch up with their Western coun­ter­parts with re­gard to stan­dard­iza­tion of in­gre­di­ents and brand man­age­ment.

What Chi­nese fast food brands can learn from their Western coun­ter­parts is how to main­tain uni­form stan­dard. Be­cause of the rel­a­tively com­pli­cated food serv­ing tra­di­tion in China, do­mes­tic fast food chains have not been able to fig­ure out diner-friendly ways of pre­sent­ing their dishes. To ex­pand their brands, Chi­nese fast food restau­rants have to en­sure that the meals they serve re­tain their fla­vor and ap­peal, as well as meet the mar­ket’s de­mand for stan­dard­iza­tion.

Qing Feng steamed bun chain restau­rant started the stan­dard­iza­tion process five years ago when it es­tab­lished a prod­uct re­search center on the out­skirts of Bei­jing. It has com­pleted the process of uni­fied in­gre­di­ent pur­chase and stor­age, and de­liv­ery to its out­lets, which means a par­tic­u­lar dish in all its out­lets will taste the same. By do­ing so, the Qing Feng man­age­ment has elim­i­nated the chances of food con­tam­i­na­tion at two cru­cial points — raw in­gre­di­ents and the sup­ply chain. It is thus in a po­si­tion to ex­pand its brand be­yond the re­gion.

Brand man­age­ment is another area in which Chi­nese fast food brands lag be­hind their Western coun­ter­parts. TV screens are flooded with welldirected com­mer­cials by McDon­ald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut. Boost­ing this ad­ver­tis­ing blitz are posters in the streets and online cam­paigns. Do­mes­tic fast food chains, on the other hand, still heav­ily rely on hard sell, such as giv­ing hand­outs to po­ten­tial cus­tomers and of­fer­ing lower prices, in­stead of pro­vid­ing a touch of class or style to their dishes. For in­stance, in its ini­tial years in China, KFC, through its pro­mo­tions, made peo­ple be­lieve that din­ing in one of its out­lets was cool.

A some­what sim­i­lar mass fever for Chi­nese lo­cal fast food was seen two years ago when US Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den had lunch at Yaoji Chao­gan Restau­rant in Bei­jing. Hope­fully, Chi­nese fast food chains will use Pres­i­dent Xi’s visit to Qing Feng as an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove their stature and pro­vide bet­ter qual­ity prod­ucts to cus­tomers in or­der to grab a larger share of the cater­ing mar­ket. The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. xi­aolixin@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

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