Something from home, with local Chinese flavor


As you read through the various essays on this site, you’ll see a common thread of encouragement to get you out of your hotel room and into your local neighborhood.


Familiar brands that have been in China and adapted to local tastes and customs represent a “bridge” to help you learn more about your child’s first culture. The American brand that best exemplifies this idea is KFC, and its sister company Pizza Hut.


Business Background


KFC opened its first restaurant in China in November 1987. In 1994, Pepsico, the brand owner at the time, decided to ramp up the rate of expansion, with a US$400 million investment to open 200 new locations. We can read that investment as a success, because by 2004 there were 1200 KFCs, and in 2011, over 3200 locations in more than 700 cities in China. Pizza Hut entered in 1990 and has steadily grown to 520 restaurants in 2011.


Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, A&W, Long John Silver’s, and more, has said they envision the Chinese market as ultimately being able to support up to 20,000 locations among their various brands.


Unlike McDonald’s and Starbucks, which have essentially kept American menus, KFC and Pizza Hut have enthusiastically embraced adaptation to local tastes, and this has been a big factor in their dramatic growth. Another important reason was the early insight into Chinese farming practice - chicken has been much more readily available than beef. KFC understood it would take McDonald’s a long time to build a reliable beef supply chain that could support hundreds of stores, so they moved first and quickly. KFC also staffed its executive team in China from the beginning with Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong and other locations, and gave them lots of autonomy.


This “first-mover advantage” allowed KFC to establish familiarity and trust with the Chinese people, and to set the “ground rules” of what consumers could expect for fast food. (By the same fashion, Pizza Hut has defined the “casual dining” genre in China.) With this time and relationship investment, KFC/Pizza Hut have the most “guanxi” with suppliers and real estate developers - so they have the strongest supply and distribution network, and best retail locations.


     



The Restaurants


You should find KFCs and Pizza Huts familiar, although some locations may be much larger than you’re used to. There *are* a lot of people in China... and sometimes real estate restrictions mean a restaurant needs to build up instead of out.


As the case with their Western outlets, at KFC you’ll walk up to the counter to order; at Pizza Hut dine-in restaurants the service and decor is often a little more upscale; you’ll be seated and will order from a menu.


Speed of service, cleanliness, and friendly staff are all on par or better than back home. One important note about the restrooms - KFCs are usually equipped with “Eastern style” toilets; Pizza Huts are usually “Western style”.


The heaviest traffic is during lunchtime; between 12:00 and 1:00 you should expect long lines and limited seating.





























Menus and Ordering Process


First, don’t worry about your Chinese-language skills. The Pizza Hut menu is bilingual, and at the KFC counter, your cashier will have a laminated bilingual menu card. Pointing to what you want is perfectly fine.

 

                                  

Click here to view a page from the Pizza Hut menu (July 2008)

                                  

Click here for a larger view of the KFC laminated menu (July 2008)


From these menus, you can see some of the variety these chains offer that we don’t get to try back in the West. Chicken kebabs, crispy fried squid, rice dishes, and escargot at Pizza Hut? Cod fish burgers and egg & vegetable soup at KFC?


This is the standard menu, too. KFC has been rolling out a breakfast menu to all its restaurants, featuring items such as youtiao (deep fried breadsticks) and congee (rice porridge). These are traditional morning foods, a bit unusual and novel for local residents to consider coming from KFC, but remember we all thought the same thing about breakfast sandwiches and shaped hash-brown patties in America 20 years ago...


Pizza Hut dine-in locations also have a late-afternoon “tea time” menu featuring desserts and coffee drinks.


  1.   But what’s the food like?


At KFC, most of the sandwiches are made with dark meat, and you can select fried or roasted chicken. The Original Recipe breast is white-meat.

The “mini burger” is a ground-chicken-with-vegetable patty -- which tastes very much like the dim sum dish shu mai -- and we highly recommend it. (We think it would do well back here in the States!)


Think of the egg tarts as small pies, sometimes with fruit or berry toppings.


Combo meals will run about US$3; the “bucket” meal about $9, so very reasonable by Western standards.


Pizzas are available in pan-style, hand-tossed, thin-crust, and even stuffed-crust. (Local folks prefer the pan-style.) You’ll see seafood toppings offered, but the classic “meat lovers’” and pepperoni items are still available, too. There will be less cheese than you’re used to, but this reflects Chinese tastes. The smaller-size pie is good for two people and runs about $9; the larger-size is about $12.


(Our “gotcha day” dinner was a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut. Our little girl had never eaten one, but she scarfed down her piece and a good amount of mine! So this is now our anniversary tradition.)


Both chains serve Pepsi, but that’s it for soda pop. Plenty of fruit juices, teas, and smoothies, however. If your trip takes you to China in the summer, these are very refreshing choices.


Pizza Delivery!


In Shanghai, Beijing, Qingdao, and Guangzhou, the phone number 4008-123-123 will connect you to English-speaking operators to take your order and coordinate delivery.


They also have a website www.4008123123.com for online ordering, but you need to be able to read and type Chinese characters to know what you’re doing, and it’s not going to take your credit card anyway. But, an excellent “slice” of life to look through!


Selling Chinese Fast Food to China


The success Yum! Brands has earned with their “localization” strategy has led them to try a new, home-grown, concept called East Dawning / Dong Fang Ji Bai. The menu is based on classic, everyday Chinese dishes: noodles, dumplings, rice, vegetables, bubble teas, all under US$3.


The first set of these stores were set up in 2008 in Shanghai, the new Beijing airport, and Downtown Guangzhou. In Summer 2011, there are now 20 locations.


Who knows, if this new venture prospers, might we see a reverse-migration of the idea back to America? As adoptive parents, this question speaks exactly to what we are doing: blending cultures, and bringing something good home.


And a spicy, high-growth acquisition



Little Sheep is a family-style restaurant chain focusing on hotpot - where groups of diners cook meats and vegetables in bubbling pots of peppery spicy oil - that has seen tremendous growth, with over 300 locations across China, and expansion into Japan, Canada, and the USA. Little Sheep has also developed a well-distributed line of cook-at-home soups and broths.


Yum! had been a minority investor in this company, but in April 2011 made an offer to acquire virtually all the shares and retain the company’s management, with the intention to continue building the chain inside China and take the concept globally. The deal is still pending government approval, but commentators say it is a straightforward non-monopolizing transaction that should be approved.

 

KFC and Pizza Hut

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Photo Credits:
“Beijing KFC” and “Popcorn & Fries” used under CC license, photographer “Fibblesan”, whose Flickr page is www.flickr.com/photos/flibblesan/ 
“Slice of Life,” “Baked Rice,” , “KFC Counter”  and all Little Sheep photos per author (Hong Kong, Nov 2010)
Menu scans generously supplied from Yum! China’s corporate office
All other images from kfc.com.cn and pizzahut.com.cnhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/flibblesan/shapeimage_11_link_0
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© 2008-2011 Scott Norris
Authorship / content / photography by Scott Norris except where noted. “weninchina”, “weninchina.com”, and the “chop” design are trademarks for the travel services and cultural publishing markets.
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