LIFE> Epicure
Quanjude: 18th century eatery becomes today's food star
By Xiao Han (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-29 11:50

The name "Quanjude" is now synonymous with roast duck for many of China's more knowledgeable gourmets. Such is its popularity that the term has now transcended its Beijing roots and become a truly national icon in terms of quality food.

However, despite its deep-rooted associations with a particular dish, "Quanjude" no longer solely refers to just a much-loved form of cuisine - it is now also associated with a burgeoning range of restaurants, brands and products all marketed under the China Quanjude (Group) Co Ltd banner.

This shift in emphasis occurred in 2004 when Beijing Tourism Group (BTG) took over Quanjude. According to Duan Qiang, chairman of BTG, the company is set to give Quanjude a major revamp. This will see the Quanjude, with a trading history dating back to 1864, transformed into a forward-looking 21st century business.

As part of this strategy, BTG has restructured its catering division and aligned it far more closely with Quanjude. This has seen the Quanjde management take on responsibility for a number of brands formerly controlled by BTG and its Yansha group subsidiary. These new responsibilities include the day-to-day operations of the group's Sichuan restaurants, Fengzeyuan restaurants and the Fangshan restaurant.

Commenting on the internal restructuring, Duan said: "Quanjude is set to be the leading company in our restaurant division and a major player in BTG's food service sector."

Jiang Junxian, chairman of Quanjude, said: "Even though all the brands have been brought under the Quanjude umbrella, their independence and individual styles will be maintained. The Quanjude Group is also looking to launch a new initiative that will integrate all of the resources and advantages of its diverse brand portfolio."

According to Jiang, Quanjude is planning to open a new restaurant chain where diners can enjoy all the well-known dishes offered by its various subsidiaries, including Quanjude's trademark roast duck, the Sichuan restaurant's famous Zhangcha duck, the Fengzeyuan restaurant's signature sea cucumber dish and the imperial cuisine of the Fangshan restaurant. The project is scheduled to launch later this year.

According to Jiang, however, the group will not be exclusively focusing its activities on high-end eateries: "Quanjude will establish brands at all levels and seek to attract ever more customers in the future. We intend to build the biggest restaurant group in China and be number one in the food services industry."

According to figures released at the end of June this year, the Quanjude Group now owns 21 direct stores and 61 franchised stores, a significant increase on its number of pre-acquisition outlets. The company has also established two food-producing bases. With chain stores downstream and food producing bases upstream, Quanjude has forged a fledgling industrial chain, a necessity for a large-scale catering enterprise.

In November 2007, Quanjude became a listed company on the Shenzhen bourse and generated 388 million yuan in funding, a huge boost for its development plans. As a "classic" brand in China to be listed, Quanjude saw this as major step towards its goal to be a modern catering group with a strong brand identity.

Keen to maintain the strength of its core roast duck proposition, Quanjude has also invested heavily in new technology, aimed at ensuring the premier delivery of its flagship foodstuff.

Among these innovations has been Quanjude's adoption of the "intelligent oven", a computer-controlled roasting program said to offer perfectly-cooked duck every time. All of the company's franchise stores as well as it wholly-owned outlets have now been trained in the use of this hi-tech cooking product. To protect the company's Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) the cooking program in each of its franchise outlets is set to work only for the duration of the franchise period, expiring unless the franchise is renewed.

The introduction of this patented technology has been one of the keys to Quanjude's expansion plans, plans that have already seen it open five outlets outside the Chinese mainland. It is believed that Taiwan is now planned to be the next in line to be treated to the Quanjude roast duck experience.

According to Jiang, when Quanjude initially signed an agreement with its Taiwanese partner to sell roast duck across the straits last year, three problems remained unsolved: "Firstly, the Taiwanese authority has yet to scrap its ban on mainland investment in Taiwan. Secondly, Quanjude needs to export ducks to Taiwan to maintain the original flavor of the special dish. Thirdly, the launch of the new outlet requires a number of experienced people to secure long term permission to work in Taiwan."

Despite these initial problems, Quanjude has gone ahead with a major charm offensive aimed at promoting its roast duck product across Taiwan. Early in July, Quanjude sent a delegation to two Taiwanese cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung, to stage a food festival and build upon the already warm welcome for its roast duck.

BTG's president Duan Qiang said: "I don't know for sure the launch date of our Taiwan outlet, as long as condition permits, I do believe it is a matter of 'when' and not 'if'."