Fast Food in China

In both my books, The Wild Wild East and Doing the China Tango, I described the elaborate Chinese banquets that foreign businessmen are invited to as part of their interaction with Chinese companies. What I didn’t mention, however, was the Chinese people’s love of fast food. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s Chinese, American, or another country’s fast food. The fact is that Chinese people seem to embrace fast foods even more than we do in the U.S. One reason for this is that China has always had food carts where local vendors would sell noodles, dumplings, and other easy to consume Chinese food items. These carts can be found along sidewalks and roads throughout China and provide, for the most part, inexpensive and tasty food items. I’ve eaten at a number of them and found the food to be good with no emergency trips to the bathroom were required. Although food sanitation standards are relatively lax with food carts, choose those with the longest line. My staff has told me that this is one of the better indicators to use when selecting a food cart and one where you probably won’t have to have a bottle of Imodium for your after-dinner drink.According to Mintel, a media intelligence company, it’s estimated that 71% of Chinese consumers prefer to eat fast food for lunch. Dinner is the second most popular meal for fast food consumption with 54% of Chinese consuming fast food at this time. Chinese Fast food outlets have shown an 80% growth in numbers since 2007 and in 2013 they’re expected to generate sales of $94.2 billion, up 8% from 2012. Much of the reason for this growth is that fast food franchises are spreading to smaller Chinese cities. In the past you could only eat at McDonalds or KFC in larger Chinese cities. Now foreign fast food franchises are ubiquitous across China. The largest industry player is Yum! Brands, Inc. which operate both KFC and Pizza Hut with 5,275 outlets in 2012. McDonalds currently has about half as many locations. Subway, Burger King, and other foreign outlets are also planning hundreds of new fast food outlets across the country. In fact, if you go to the Shanghai’s Pudong airport, on the bottom level arrivals hall you’ll find Burger King at one end, open 24 hours a day, and KC anchoring the other! Fast food is everywhere in China.

As Chinese people have more disposable income fast food franchises are expected to continue expanding across China. Not long ago I ate at a Papa John’s in Chongqing and found the pizza to be every bit as good at that in the U.S. That consistency and quality is what attracts a great many Chinese to foreign fast food restaurants. In a country where food safety is the number one social issue Chinese believe that foreign fast food, while slightly more expensive, is safe, of good quality, and suits their busy lifestyle.


Alan Refkin

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