China: They Love Cars and Fast Food

image via Financial Post

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Combine China’s burgeoning car culture with its love for American-style fast food, and what do you end up with?
That’s right—the drive through.
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In 2010, China became the world’s largest market for cars.
It’s not tops for fast food–yet–the U.S. still lays claim to that distinction, but China is well on its way, with American chains on an expansion tear, changing China’s 5,000-year-old culinary tradition in a country where privately owned restaurants were virtually nonexistent 30 years ago.
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The drive through window is where the two trends converge.

There are still kinks to work out. There is nothing quick-serve about China’s drive through lanes. Fast food chains have taken to airing TV commercials and replacing speakers with human order-takers to demystify the process, and prints flyers and placemats illustrating proper drive through techniques and etiquette. Even so, the lanes are clogged with bicycles, scooters, pedestrians, and taxicabs mingling with shiny late model Fords, reflecting the still-aspirational status of car ownership.

Two American giants have been angling to win over the Chinese appetite for fast food. McDonald’s might be the world’s largest fast-food chain, but in China it trails Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. Yum! was first to arrive (1987) and took an early lead. KFC is now China’s most recognizable and successful foreign brand, complete with an Asian-styled Colonel Sanders icon.
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Drive throughs are key to McDonald’s China catch-up strategy. It hopes to exploit the country’s growing taste for both cars and western-style fast food to boost its market share. To that end, McDonald’s recently launched a partnership with a major Chinese oil company that gives it the pick of any of locations to open a restaurant beside any of its 30,000 filling stations.
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Banking on drive throughs is a big gamble in a country that has yet to build a major highway network and frowned on private car ownership until the 1990’s. Just in case, China’s McDonald’s will also offer 24 hour home delivery.
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2 Responses to China: They Love Cars and Fast Food

  1. Monet says:

    KFC? Who would have thought? I hope that I can visit China in the near future…but I know I won’t be stopping anywhere for fast food (at least the American kind!) Thank you for sharing with me. I hope you have a great weekend. I’m ready for some warmth!

  2. Home delivery?? you must be joking! wow.

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