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slideyfoot
10/24/2005 7:16am,
Work search engine as usual, no web link that I've been able to find.


Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders have every reason to worry. The new kid in town is a Chinese kung fu master, and he has every intention of sticking around for the long haul.

He shares a lot in common with the two fast food giants: a clean environment, pleasant music, a jovial atmosphere, and most importantly, quick service. You can start eating your food within 80 seconds of placing your order.

There is a catch, however. You can forget about the deep fried chicken wings and French fries, because here the standard fare is steamed rice served with spareribs, lettuce and oyster sauce, and a hot bowl of ginseng chicken soup.

"Fast food can be healthy and nutritious," says Cai Dabiao, president of Kungfu Fast Food Chain Co Ltd. "It's now show time for Chinese fast food."

Cai is confident because more Chinese are paying attention to the negative aspects of Western fast food that a series of alarming media reports recently unearthed.

KFC withdrew two menu items from its outlets in China this March because of a red dye that causes cancer, Sudan-I.

A suit filed in the United States sought to force companies, including KFC and McDonald's, to place warnings on cooked potato products, because they contained higher levels of a toxic chemical that can cause cancer.

Articles on rising obesity rates in China are also common. Healthcare experts and nutritionists often say that children are usually overweight because they eat too much Western fast food.

"Chinese consumers used to have little doubt about the nutritional content of Western fast food," Cai says.

Kungfu Fast Food now has about 90 outlets across South China's Guangdong Province. It started a national expansion campaign in June last year by launching outlets in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hangzhou, in East China's Zhejiang Province.

In July this year, it opened three outlets in Beijing. It opened an outlet in Shanghai in February and plans to launch another two or three in the city by the end of this year.

"We plan to have 200 Kungfu restaurants across China by the end of next year," Cai says.

Cai believes Cantonese-style steamed items will win over Chinese fast food diners keen to eat healthily. "I really like the set menus at Kungfu. They are fast and good," says Zhang Ming. It only takes him five minutes to walk from his office to a Kungfu outlet near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in eastern Beijing.

"For about 20 yuan (US$2.5), I can have a full lunch with meat, rice, vegetables and soup," Zhang says.

He says he particularly likes the soup. "It's very different from the stuff served at other fast food restaurants," says Zhang, sipping duck soup with mushrooms, longan and Chinese wolfberries.

"I don't usually have time to make this myself, but now I can have it for lunch regularly."

Zhang adds that he still likes fried chicken and hamburgers because they taste good. "I don't eat that stuff as much as I used to, though, because it's just not healthy," he says.

Western fast food giants operating in China have recognized this shift. Public concern over the nutritional content of Western fast food is a major stumbling block for multinationals, says Su Jingshi, president of Yum! Restaurants China. Yum! is KFC's parent company.

McDonald's and KFC are coming up with new strategies to entice Chinese consumers. The golden arches invited Chinese consumers to visit its kitchens and see how food is prepared in September. It also provides free brochures on the nutritional content of each menu item at McDonald's.

KFC launched a new campaign in August and says it will adapt to Chinese consumers. It plans to add more Chinese items to its menu, provide a greater variety of vegetables, and introduce more cooking methods.

Standardized food preparation is just as important as health and nutrition, Cai says. "It is the most basic and important part of running a fast food chain."

This has long been an obstacle to the further growth of domestic fast food restaurants. Chinese cuisine boasts a range of different cooking methods, including frying, stir frying, deep frying, boiling and steaming. The same kind of dish may taste slightly different, even if made by the same cook.

"Steaming is the easiest cooking method to standardize," Cai says.

Kungfu has established three distribution centres in Hangzhou, Beijing and Dongguan, South China's Guangdong Province. The centres are responsible for purchasing and processing raw materials.

There are no chefs or knives in the kitchens of Kungfu outlets. The staff just need to steam the contents of a vacuum-sealed pouch. A computer controls the temperature, pressure and cooking times. Spareribs, for example, are steamed for 180 seconds.

Kungfu has also adopted a Cantonese method of making soup, by putting the raw materials into a cylinder, adding some water, covering it and steaming it.

"They've found a very smart way to access the market," says Bian Jiang, vice secretary-general of China Cuisine Association.

"Standardized cooking is just one part of being a successful fast food chain. There is still more work to do, though. They also need to standardize management."

Bian says expanding the menu is another big challenge. "Steaming has its own advantages, but it is just one way of cooking. The market wants more than that," Bian says.

Cai agrees, saying that standardization is an ongoing effort. Kungfu has published 10 books on standardized cooking. Other departments responsible for purchasing, processing, logistics, and site selection, have their own manuals or books on standardization.

"We always improve the content of these manuals, and we will keep doing so," Cai says.

Kungfu also plans to introduce more Chinese steamed dishes and more Cantonese-style steamed desserts.

"Chinese restaurants, in most people's minds, are places for lunch and dinner," Cai says. "We want more than that. We want people also to come to Kungfu at 3 or 4 pm to enjoy our desserts."

Kungfu's logo is a young man in a Bruce Lee-style yellow tracksuit. Cai calls him the "Chinese hero."

"He is a mixture of many Chinese kung fu masters," Cai says.

The 35-year old owner is a kung fu enthusiast who started to learn martial arts and breathing exercises when he was in middle school.

Many think he named the fast food chain out of his love for kung fu, but he didn't. When Cai opened his first restaurant with a friend in Dongguan, they named it "Shuang Zhong Zi," or Double Seeds. They hoped their business would quickly grow like a budding plants.

When they expanded the business into Guangzhou and Shenzhen, that name and image caused problems.

"People in the bigger cities were not impressed by our name or our image. Double Seeds only gave them a vague, rustic impression," Cai recalls.

He redesigned the restaurant logo and name with the help of a consulting company.

"Chinese kungfu is one of the most impressive aspects of Chinese culture. We want our business to reflect the spirit of kungfu culture, the desire to challenge the self. We also want to our customers to be ready to challenge and improve themselves."

Cai registered the new name and logo in 2004. "We believe this is a much more powerful brand," Cai adds.

Cai is now in talks with several foreign investment companies to fund Kungfu Fast Food's expansion.

"We can still handle things over the next two years, but we need more capital from outside to fund our growth over the next five or six years."

There are more than 1 million fast food outlets in China, according to statistics from the China Cuisine Association. Annual sales revenues are about 180 billion yuan (US$22.2 billion), accounting for 20 per cent of the national catering industry's total sales.

"Despite the large number of Chinese fast food outlets, there is no leading brand," Cai says. "There is no industry chain that can support the growth of Chinese fast food, either."

Cai says that Kungfu benefits from McDonald's and KFC's prosperous growth in China, because they have established solid lettuce production bases in China. Kungfu purchases lettuce from a Yunnan Province supplier that works with McDonald's and KFC.

Establishing a stable rice supply is in also a problem.

"We haven't found Chinese rice suppliers with large, standardized growing and processing mechanisms," Cai says.

Kungfu now only uses rice from Thailand.

"It is much more expensive, but they have better quality controls."


Both amusing due to the ironic connotation, and interesting in terms of 'kung fu' as a powerful branding tool. Bruce Lee and kung fu are now being used to sell fast food, in the same way that Bruce Lee has been used to legitimise dubious martial arts schools and publications ever since his death in 1973.

Judah Maccabee
10/24/2005 10:59am,
Huh, China is requiring cooked potato products to have a cancer warning?

Sounds like they're more scared of acrylamide than the US is - that link has been known for at least a year. It comes more from frying the foods than just cooking them.

Peter H.
10/24/2005 11:04am,
80 seconds - I've seen Shoalin Soccer, they should have it done faster.