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KFC flirts with Chinese cuisine
( 2002-01-10 10:47 ) (1 )

Surprise was the first reaction of local student Li Ting on hearing of Kentucky Fried Chicken's latest offering. Rather than extend their characteristic range of chicken products, the fast food giant recently introduced a distinctly Chinese dish: Sichuan pickle and sliced pork soup.

"How strange to get something like that from KFC! Anyway, I'll give it a try," Li said. Perhaps that is just the type of reaction KFC hoped would meet its bold decision to cater specifically to the Chinese market with the new product, which is competitively priced at 4 yuan ($0.48).

"Some may think the soup is a ridiculous dish, but our belief is that it is right to develop new products which meet consumers' diverse needs," said Jasmine Fang, spokeswoman for Shanghai KFC Co Ltd, which has more than 70 outlets citywide.

"But that definitely doesn't mean we will turn away from fried chicken, our main product," she added.

Localized approach

In fact, astute customers will notice that the soup is not KFC's first step towards offering a more localized selection for Chinese, a large number of whom are hooked on this Western fast food.

Earlier in 2001, KFC launched a fresh vegetable soup, which was followed by "fragrant beef" and "Uygur roast pork", two Chinese-style dips for french fries.

But despite this, many hold that it is the latest dish which really signals KFC's localized approach.

Behind the seemingly simple creation is a one-year market research process, led by the KFC Chinese Healthy Food Consultative Committee, set up in 2000.

The results have been encouraging. Prior to release KFC predicted that only 5 per cent of customers would buy the soup; in fact the number of takers has turned out to be triple their estimate. On the basis of this KFC will not withdraw the soup in February as had been planned - it will continue to be served nationwide as part of the long-term menu.

Dining culture

"Choosing to eat at fast food restaurants like KFC doesn't necessarily indicate a desire for Western flavours," said Sun Min, a local government official. "I would accept the soup, which represents a simplified form of Chinese cuisine, because speed and convenience are top priorities for me (in choosing places for dining)," Sun said.

These qualities were also emphasized by Wang Qi, general manager of Shanghai KFC.

"We can't guarantee that we are better than Chinese mamas at making this type of soup, but after all people choose KFC for fast food, and we are good at offering fast and convenient service," said Wang in a recent interview with the Xinmin Weekly.

Du Jiming, a member of the Shanghai Catering Trade Association, believes that it is natural for foreign fast food giants such as KFC and McDonald's to introduce local-style recipes, given their well-established brands and sound business foundations.

"It's hard to say at the moment whether the introduction of the soup signals foreign fast food's compromise in the face of Chinese culinary heritage," he said.

Against the backdrop of globalization, it is by no means unusual to see foreign fast food giants taking the risk of introducing market-specific varieties based on regional research. Those multinationals eyeing the vast market of China must bear in mind the importance of a localized perspective.

Localization does not relate to the number of Chinese employees or the amount of raw material purchased in China; rather, it refers to the extent to which businesses understand Chinese culture and Chinese consumers' needs.



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