KFC is the most popular Western fast food restaurant in China, and it has been since shortly after they opened their first store. The people in charge of bringing the fried chicken brand to China knew what they were doing from the moment they opened their first store Beijing. They were the first to hit that specific market, and have been killing it over there ever since. So let’s find out the top 10 reasons why China loves KFC.
NO#1 The first fast food restaurant
KFC did it first, Most people in business can tell you that it’s important to be the first one to hit the market. That way, by the time your competition hits the market, you’ve already set up a strong brand that consumers recognize.
KFC clearly knew that China would be a large and profitable market, and being the first Western fast food restaurant there would be vital. In late 1987, they hit the ground running, and by 1988 their first store, in Beijing, had the highest sales volume of any KFC. Thousands of Beijing citizens waited in line to eat at the first KFC location in China – the store actually had to call the police to maintain order as they attempted to serve all of their hungry customers. Since late 1987 when the first KFC opened until 2018, they have grown to over 5000 locations. KFC has proven year after year that they plan on staying a staple in China, and they have the sales numbers to show the large demand for their food.
Back when they first opened, KFC was a luxury style restaurant, unlike fast food places in North America that are seen as quick and cheap. KFC in China started as a premium brand, offering quality and cleanliness that local citizens weren’t used to. On top of that, they also strategically opened their first location in a very tourist heavy location, meaning that while they attempted to attract locals and build a reputation, they were able to gain the business of tourists who probably already knew of KFC. The fact that KFC was able to get to the market first and bring the novelty of Western food to China is one of the reasons that they would prove to be very popular amongst Chinese residents.
NO#2 Chinese citizens tend to prefer chicken
Chinese citizens tend to prefer chicken over any other meat such as beef, which gave KFC a second advantage on top of being the first to hit the market. Fried chicken was already a recognizable food in China before KFC had even entered the market, whereas foods such as hamburgers were mostly unknown to Chinese citizens. This gave KFC a huge advantage when being faced with competition from other Western chains – it meant they had to put less focus on gaining a consumer base. Places that served other foods, such as hamburgers, would not only have to attempt to build their brand and some customer loyalty, they would also need to deal with introducing a whole new and different food to China. KFC was able
to avoid that part of entering the market, as chicken was already a staple amongst consumers in China. KFC could start serving customers right away, and their customers knew exactly what to expect when eating at a KFC restaurant – there was no learning what it was they were ordering like there may have been with other large chains who attempted to get a hold there. Though it was definitely not in the plans when KFC first opened as a chicken-based restaurant, their specialty of chicken would prove to benefit them greatly.
NO#3 Adaption to local tastes
As KFC continued to grow in China, they realized that if they were going to continue to thrive, they would need to adapt to local tastes. Their first new restaurant locations kept true to the classic KFC menu and tastes, but they saw the demand in the market for a more localized taste to the KFC classics. So, they added local items to their menu such as egg tarts, congee and specialty items such as their “Dragon Twister”.
Their ability to adapt to the changing market in China meant that they were listening to what the market was demanding and they were willing to change things that were maybe not working the way they should. Adapting to local flavors meant that while they kept many distinctly KFC menu items, they also added items that would appeal to the Chinese market, creating a mixture of both classic and specific tastes. They were in tune with their consumer base, and changed things as the economy grew and the wants of their customers changed. KFC was able to see the gap that needed to be filled in their Chinese market, and they had no problems adapting to fill it while still staying true to their business model of friendly customer service and quality food.
NO#4 KFC kept things local
Instead of bringing in managers from elsewhere, they decided to train and implement store managers that were local – this helped the company to understand the local culture, and also helped them know where to open markets outside of the large cities. They had local knowledge on their side, which meant they didn’t have to attempt to figure it all out on their own.
On top of that, having the local managers meant that they spoke the same dialect of Mandarin as their customer base, making the environment of these KFCs more welcoming to their consumers. Hiring their management and staff from the area where they opened a restaurant meant they would also supported the local economies, providing job opportunities to people who lived in that specific town, or near it, to fill.
Other companies that tried to follow in KFC’s footsteps recruited employees from North America or other parts of Asia, and they didn’t provide the same local feel that KFC’s employees were able to provide. It might not seem like it would be that important to hire locally to most people, but KFC knew better and they took advantage of this knowledge. Local employees would prove to be a huge asset to the company, and to this day they still continue doing their best to continue to hire locally.
NO#5 High standards
They set standards for not only their customer service, but also their suppliers and store cleanliness, which Chinese citizens weren’t used to back when the first KFC was opened. The fast food restaurant was a novelty at first, bringing a piece of Western culture to China, and providing them with an experience that most Chinese citizens had never had. KFC kept their locations clean, and had great customer service, something that wasn’t common in China anywhere. The positive experience that was provided to KFC’s consumers was one of the major reasons that they kept coming back.
Their food standards were higher than most places in China, meaning that people could eat at KFC and feel good about it. People in China knew that when you went to KFC, you were getting great quality of food, you were getting it quickly, and more than likely it was being served with a smile. China had been known for scandals that had to do with quality of food and products that were being sold to consumers, so the assurance that KFC only served quality food was a luxury that many Chinese citizens were willing to go out of their way for, even when the average Chinese citizen’s income was much lower than it is today.