Flavor Chinese fast food with success
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. firstname.lastname@example.org.