Localizing Fast Food in China: Advancing and Achieving Consumer Demands through Cultural Adaption
Kopystynsky, Nicholas A.
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Once while studying abroad in China I had phoned home to tell my family what China was like. In one story I excitedly described the seafood pizza and pasta of a steak and wine restaurant where I treated a date to a nice dinner. Much to my family’s surprise the location was in fact a Pizza Hut. They had their notions of what Pizza Hut could offer and what occasions were appropriate for the restaurant but a fancy date was not among them. The explanation I offered was that many things that made their way to China from America have all changed, perhaps even to be unrecognizable without the brand name. Even the most representative export America serves, its fast food, is not what you might expect. These days people can run inside a McDonalds between meetings or after school in Beijing as easily as in Boston. But when one sets out to find a quick bite in China, grabbing some fast food, are they always eating American? Actually several fast food restaurants that serve Chinese food have sprung up with varying degrees of success, such as Yonghe King, Glorious China Chicken, and Real Kungfu. So then the foreign companies must be serving up an American experience, yes? You can find your standard burger at McDonalds and pizza at Pizza Hut, but menus also include many popular regional options unavailable in the United States such as congee, egg tarts, soy milk, seafood pizza, Dragon Twister wraps, or the Hot Mala McChicken. In fact McDonalds, KFC, or any foreign fast food company in China is a joint venture, not just in theory but in practice too. But shouldn’t these places be packed with foreigners, looking like little American embassies? Not only are customers by far Chinese, but the wait staff of any location are all locals. Even the managerial positions all the way up to national executives are mostly Chinese nationals. Ingredients? Most to all of the ingredients and materials used are produced within the country, for instance KFC only imports one thing: eleven secret herbs and spices, part of an original recipe written down by the Colonel himself. Even the idea of fast food can’t be firmly described as Western. People in China have been eating quick meals or snacks like steamed buns or sticky rice rolls long before opening to the West. Because fast food has been exported to China we expect it to still be American even overseas. But “fast food” does not mean the same things to China’s consumers. Where Westerners might be looking for value and quick service, Chinese might instead look for a modern environment to eat foreign foods. Western dining and fast food is popular in China, but not for the same reasons it is in the West where it came from.