Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Kentucky Fried China

After having visited the only KFC in the whole of Mongolia, it was time therefore to revisit arguably KFC's biggest and most important market........China. We hopped on a train and 33 hours later, we were there - Beijing, where we were soon to encounter the most radical menu item ever!

Emerging from Beijing central railway station KFC appeared to be in rude health. From my standpoint outside the main entrance I could see no less than three separate branches!

What better way to celebrate our arrival in the world's fastest emerging superpower than a visit to a multinational chain owned by its economic rival?... we went in to be confronted by a fairly conventional restaurant, layout wise, but a fairly unconventional menu. Chicken featured, of course, but so did many other weird and wonderful creations.

On this occasion we went for a 'Dragon Twister' - KFC's take on the famous Peking Duck: a wrap including fried chicken, cucumbers, spring onions, and duck sauce. The second choice was a 'Shrimp Burger' - consisting of four King Prawns set into some kind of potato patty; it was pretty good although looked fairly bland.

I should have clocked that a Shrimp Burger meant there were non-chicken menu items available, but what I found in the next branch we visited truly astounded me...... A KFC Beef Burger:

Although this isn't going to win any beauty contests, the six ultra thin beef patties fused together to form one burger provided a surprisingly juicy offering with some mushrooms on top giving a nice extra bit of sophisticated flavour you'd not find in the West.

KFC China confounded my expectations and turned all received wisdom on its head. In my two branch visits I didn't even order a chicken product (though I did try my PA's). Whilst I enjoyed trying and reporting on the strange menu items, to state the obvious... it just ain't chicken. That said, if the stats below are anything to go by they're doing something right. 


To understand the staggering magnitude of this operation, take a look at the below from YUM Brands, the KFC Parent company:

KFC was the first quick-service restaurant chain to enter China in 1987. Today, KFC is the number one quick-service restaurant brand in China with more than 4,400 restaurants in more than 850 cities. In fact, we open more than one new KFC every day in China. In addition to Original Recipe chicken, KFC has an extensive menu featuring beef, seafood, rice dishes, fresh vegetables, soups, breakfast, desserts, and other products that appeal to Chinese consumers’ tastes.
KFB last visited China in March 2011, and looking at the figures above you'll see they've added over 700 new restaurants since then.... a phenomenal rate of growth.

And the list of superlatives continues:

Clifford Coonan of The Irish Times describes KFC as "by far the most pervasive symbol of Western culture in China". This is evidenced by the below picture of a KFC I visited at Badaling, where you can just see China's famous Great Wall in the background:

Ninety percent of Chinese sites are company owned, in contrast to just 11 percent internationally.

In 2008, Novak (Yum Chief Executive) said that he envisioned eventually operating more than 20,000 restaurants in China.

McDonalds, the arch rival boasted only 1705 restaurants in China in 2012 so KFC has clearly stolen the march on its old foe.

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