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China’s Best Fast-Food Restaurants: These Are the 11 Most Popular Chains in the PRC

These are China’s most popular fast-food chains and the most important trends in the industry.

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The China Cuisine Association (CCA) released a list ranking the strongest fast-food companies in China this month. The list is a top 70 (!), but here, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of the top 11 in this ranking list of fast-food restaurants in China.

Fast food has been trending on Chinese social media this week after the China Cuisine Association (综合自中国烹饪协会, CCA) issued a new ‘best brands’ report during its 23rd China Fast Fast-Food Convention.

The report by the CCA found two major trends within China’s fast-food industry.

Firstly, fast-food brands, in general, are becoming more and more popular within mainland China. The industry has seen rapid growth over the past decade, with the first half of this year already seeing a 9.4% increase compared to last year.

In the period from January to August of 2019 alone, China’s restaurant industry had a total sales revenue of 2.8 trillion yuan (355 billion US dollars) – making it one of the country’s fastest-growing industries according to Sina Finance.

Second, Chinese-style fast food brands are rising in popularity. Although KFC, McDonald’s, and Burger King still dominate the top three chart, Chinese players such as Laoxiangji (老乡鸡), Dicos (德克士), and Real Kungfu (真功夫) are becoming favorite fast-food restaurants among Chinese consumers.

On Weibo, some commenters suggest that it is inevitable for foreign players to still rule the top lists since they were the first fast-food chains to arrive in China. China’s own homegrown brands followed later and needed more time to grow, but, they predict, will only become more popular in the years to come.

Fast-food first arrived in China in the 1980s, with Kentucky Fried Chicken launching in the PRC in 1987 and McDonald’s following in 1990. The very first fast-food restaurant in China was actually not KFC, but ‘Yili’s Fast Food Shop’ (义利快餐厅), a brand established in 1906 by Scottish businessman James Neil and taken over by Chinese managers in the 1940s.

So what currently are China’s most popular fast-food chains? The list as issued by the CCA actually contains the 70 strongest fast-food companies of China.

For the scope of this article, we highlight the top-ranking 11 fast-food companies of China for you, starting with number one.

 

#1: Kentucky Fried Chicken (肯德基)

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is the major brand by Yum China (百胜中国), China’s leading restaurant company that spun off from the American Yum! Brands in 2016. Yum China has the exclusive right to operate KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell in China, and also owns the Little Sleep hotpot concept. The KFC official Weibo account almost has 2.5 million fans.

People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland. Its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Within a decade, KFC already had 100 different restaurants in China.

The question of how an American fast-food chain succeeded in becoming the number one in China, outnumbering McDonald’s, is at the center of the book KFC in China: Secret Recipe for Success. Some reasons that contribute to KFC’s success in China is the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, and the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste.

 

#2: McDonald’s (麦当劳)

Twenty-nine years ago, McDonald’s opened China’s first restaurant in Shenzhen under the name ‘Màidāngláo’ (麦当劳), a Chinese rendering of the name.

Since 2017, the restaurant’s official name change to ‘Jīn Gǒngmén’ (金拱门), literally meaning ‘Golden Arches’, made headlines both in- and outside China. The name as displayed on the restaurants, however, has always remained the same; ‘Golden Arches’ is just the formal Chinese name of the mother company.

Despite its rocky journey in China – McDonald’s has always faced strong competition within the Chinese fast food market and had to deal with a 2014 food scandal – the American fast-food chain is still popular among Chinese, with many sharing fond memories of their first McDonald’s experience.

The Weibo account now has 1,1 million fans.

The chain still has more room for growth in the PRC, and is looking at new ways to franchise on the mainland. McDonald’s is also always adapting to local tastes. The Chinese menu offers products such as Cola Chicken wings or big chicken cutlet rice bowls.

 

#3: Burger King (汉堡王)

Compared to KFC or McDonald’s, Burger King is somewhat of a newcomer to the Chinese market, but its growth is also rapid: the first restaurant in China opened in 2005, and its 1000th already opened in 2018.

China’s fast-growing middle class has helped the American brand to flourish on the mainland, as did McDonald’s former president of greater China, Peter Tan, who became Burger King’s senior vice president.

Burger King has a wide and strong social media presence in China, with various official Weibo accounts actively promoting Burger King in various cities. The accounts have a personal approach and often post jokes and funny videos.

 

#4: Home Original Chicken / Laoxiangji (老乡鸡)

Home Original Chicken currently is the most popular Chinese-style fast-food chain in the PRC. To celebrate this fact, various restaurants around the country held some promotional events this week, even giving out lunch for free in some of its 800+ locations across the country. The promotion went trending on Weibo, with the hashtag ‘Laoxiangji invited the whole country for dinner’ (#老乡鸡宴请全国#) getting 280 million views.

The short history of the restaurant goes back to 2003 when chicken breeder Shu Congxuan opened the first location in Hefei, Anhui province. The chain’s menu items look completely different from the top 3 in this list; ‘Laoxiangji’ serves some classic pork meatballs, meatballs wrapped in fried gluten, hot and sour fish, or steamed eggplant with chili and sour sauce.

A combi meal as promoted by Laoxiangji.

The ‘Laoxiangji’ Weibo account now has over 360,300 followers.

 

#5: Dicos (德克士)

Dicos, founded in 1994, is one of the biggest Chinese-style fast-food chains in the PRC. It was founded in Chengdu and serves fried chicken and different fried chicken rice bowls, among other things. It already opened its 2000th store in 2013.

Tianjin Ding Qiao Food Service owns Dicos. In a way, you could say Dicos is one of KFC’s biggest competitors in the PRC as it is also famous for its fried chicken buckets.

The restaurant’s Weibo account has over 727,000 fans. Besides promoting fried chicken dishes, the account also regularly promotes the Dicos brands’ various sweet desserts.

 

#6: Real Kungfu (真功夫)

Real Kungfu is probably the fast-food restaurant with the coolest logo – which looks like an image of Bruce Lee- and brand name here.

The restaurant is headquartered in Guangzhou and opened its first restaurant in 1990. The restaurant serves various meal sets at very reasonable prices, usually including a rice bowl, soup, boiled lettuce, and a meat main dish.

Photo of Zhen Kungfu order by Weibo user.

Weibo account @Zhengongfu has more than 188,000 followers. The account often posts about movies or series, with the chain associating itself with Chinese popular culture.

 

#7: Country Style Cooking (乡村基)

Country Style Cooking (Xiāngcūnjī, 乡村基) is originally a Chongqing restaurant that opened its first restaurant in 1996 under the name ‘Country Style Chicken’ (乡村鸡). It now has over 600 restaurants throughout China.

The restaurant’s name is literally also its theme: providing real ‘home-style’ cooking from the country to its customers. It serves some classic stir-fry dishes such as the Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁).

The brand is still relatively small on Chinese social media, having some 39000 fans on its Weibo account.

 

#8: Ajisen Ramen (味干拉面)

Ajisen Ramen is the first Japanese chain in this list, which focuses on Japanese ramen noodle soup dishes. It operates more than 700 noodle restaurants in Hong Kong and mainland China, but also has restaurants in other countries across the world.

Its history goes all the way back to 1968, but its franchise endeavors started later.

The chain has no presence on Weibo.

 

#9: Yonghe King (永和大王)

Yonghe King is another Chinese-style fast-food chain that, like Ajisen, also focuses on noodles. Its first restaurant was opened in 1995 in Shanghai.

The brand is not fully Chinese anymore, as it merged with Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC), the biggest fast-food company in the Philippines, in 2004. Since 2016, Jollibee is 100% owner of Yonghe King.

Yonghe King’s menu is diverse, as it offers various breakfast items, meal sets with noodles or rice, and desserts. It promotes its breakfast as the perfect start of the day for busy people who have to get to work early and have no time to prepare a meal.

With almost 409,000 fans on Weibo, Yonghe King is pretty popular on Chinese social media.

 

#10: Yoshinoya (吉野家)

Yoshinoya is the second Japanese chain in this list and it is the oldest brand, going back all the way to 1899.

Although Yoshinoya is a ‘fast food’ chain because, some of the items on its menu are not as fast to eat. The restaurant is known for its beef bowls, but how about a one-person hotpot set?

Hop Hing Group, based in Hong Kong, is the licensed operator of Yoshinoya in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The restaurant has recently become a target of violence during the Hong Kong Protests, as it was labeled as being a Beijing supporter.

 

#11: Mr. Lee California Beef Noodle King (李先生加州牛肉面大王)

The Beijing brand Mr. Lee is a popular fast-food chain in mainland China that specializes in beef noodle soup. Its first store was opened in 1988.

The ‘California’ part in its time comes from the Californian Chinese-American businessman Li Beiqi (李北祺) who started the company – hence the restaurant’s name (Mr. ‘Li’ in pinyin).

Besides the beef noodle soup, the restaurant also offers rice meals, dumplings, sweets, evening snacks and more. The Mr. Lee’s Weibo account has over 55000 fans.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Food & Drinks

Would You Like Coffee with Your Sneakers? Chinese Sports Brand Li-Ning Registers Its ‘Ning Coffee’ Brand

Li-Ning enters the coffee market: “Will they sell sneaker-flavored coffee?”

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An unexpected competitor is joining China’s coffee market. With over 7000 stores in the country, Li-Ning has the potential to become the biggest athletic coffee chain yet.

Another player is joining mainland China’s growing coffee market. It’s not an American coffee giant, nor a coffee house chain from Hong Kong – it is China’s leading sportswear brand Li-Ning Sports (李宁体育).

Li-Ning registered its coffee brand under the ‘NING COFFEE’ trademark. As reported in an article written by ‘Investment Group’ (@投资界) and published by Toutiao News (@头条新闻), Li-Ning has confirmed on May 6 that it will provide in-store coffee services to enhance customers’ shopping experiences in the near future.

The move means that Li-Ning could potentially become a big player in China’s coffee market, competing with major brands such as Starbucks, Luckin Coffee, Costa and Pacific. If the in-store coffee cafes would roll out in most of its shops, there could be over 7000 Ning Coffee cafes in China in the future. By the end of 2021, Li-Ning Sports had a total of 7,137 stores in China.

Starbucks has 5,400 stores in China. Leading domestic coffee chain Luckin Coffee expanded to over 6000 stores last year. Costa Coffee, although closing some of its China stores in 2021, announced that it aims to have a total of 1,200 stores open in China later this year. Looking at Li-Ning’s presence across China, its in-store coffee cafes could be serious competition for the leading coffee chains in the country.

Over the past few years, various Chinese sportswear brands, including Anta Sports and Erke, have seen a rise in popularity, but Li-Ning is still China’s most famous brand name for athletic apparel and shoes. The company was founded in the early 1990s by Chinese Olympic gymnast and business entrepreneur Li Ning (1963) and was generally seen as a Nike copycat – the original logo was even similar to the Nike swoosh. Although Li-Ning looked like Nike, the brand is more appealing to many Chinese consumers due to the fact that it is cheaper and made in China.

Li-Ning markets itself as being “deeply and uniquely Chinese” (Li Ning official website 2022), which has made it more popular in an era of “proudly made in China” (read more about that here). Moreover, it also promises to offer high-quality sportwear at a price that is cheaper than the American Nike or German Adidas.

Li-Ning’s success is also owed to its marketing strategies. Besides being the official marketing partner of many major sports events, including the NBA in China, the brand has also contracted with many household athletes and famous global ambassadors.

Over a decade ago, marketing observers already noted that despite the remarkable success of Li-Ning in China, the brand still had a long way to go in order to strengthen its image as a long-term brand, recommending Li-Ning to “create excitement around the brand” by building more associations related to lifestyle and coolness to better resonate with younger Chinese customers (Bell 2008, 81; Roll 2006, 170).

With its latest move into the coffee market, it is clear that Li-Ning is moving its brand positioning more toward the direction of lifestyle, trendiness, and luxury. Although purchasing a coffee at Starbucks or Luckin is part of the everyday routine for many urban millennials, coffee is still viewed as a trendy luxury product for many, relating to both cultural factors as well as economic reasons. As noted by Cat Hanson in 2015, the price of a single cup of coffee was equal to a month’s worth of home broadband internet (read more).

Previously, other fashion brands have also opened up coffee stores in China. As reported by Jing Daily, international luxury brands Prada, Louis Vuitton, and FENDI also opened up coffee cafes in mainland China.

Another unexpected coffee cafe is that of China Post, which opened its first in-store ‘Post Coffee’ in Xiamen earlier this year. On social media, many netizens commented that the brand image of the national post service clashed with that of a fairly expensive coffee house (coffee prices starting at 22 yuan / $3,3).

“The postal services are located in cities and in the countryside and are often used by migrant workers, and generally this demographic isn’t buying coffee,” one person commented, with another netizen writing: “This does not suit the taste of ordinary people, it would’ve been better if they sold milk tea.”

Post Coffee, via Jiemian Official.

On Weibo, Li-Ning’s journey into the competitive coffee market was discussed using the hashtags “Li-Ning Enters the Coffee Race” (#李宁入局咖啡赛道#) and “Li-Ning Starts Selling Coffee” (##李宁开始卖咖啡##).

Like with China Post, many commenters say the combination of sportswear and coffee is not something they immediately find logical. “Will they also sell sneaker-flavored coffee?” one person wondered, with others thinking selling coffee – seen as a product from western countries – does not exactly match with Li-Ning as a ‘proudly made-in-China’ brand.

“How would you feel about trying on some clothes at Li-Ning while sipping on Li-Ning coffee? I understand Li-Ning is jumping on what’s popular, and this time it’s coffee,” one Weibo user writes, with others also writing: “I think it has potential.”

“I’m willing to try it out,” various commenters write. For others, they want to see the menu first: “It all depends on the price.”

For more about the coffee and tea market in China, check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

References

Bell, Sandra. 2008. International Brand Management of Chinese Companies. Heidelberg: Physia-Verlag.

Roll, Martin. 2006. Asian Brand Strategy: How Asia Builds Strong Brands. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

Weibo Has Still Blocked ‘Shanghai Buy Groceries’ Hashtag

“It’s easier to get a Shanghai license plate than groceries around here.”

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While Shanghai is promising to improve food supplies for locked-down residents, many households are still struggling to get their groceries and complain about high prices for basic food items. Over the past week, Weibo has blocked a hashtag page about the issue.

On April 8, during the seventh day of Shanghai’s phased citywide lockdown, the Chinese social media platform Weibo removed the ‘Shanghai Buy Food’ or ‘Shanghai Groceries’ (#上海买菜#) hashtag while many in the city were facing difficulties in getting food delivered to their house and were venting their anger online. Getting daily necessities has become a problem for millions of residents not allowed to leave their homes due to the city’s coronavirus prevention measures.

The hashtag censorship coincided with state media news reports about Shanghai ensuring life supplies for residents and improving delivery capacities at a time when most stores, restaurants, supermarkets, and wet markets have shut down normal operations. Shanghai has registered over 253,000 Covid-19 infections since March 1st of this year, reporting another daily record of 26,330 confirmed cases on Wednesday.

Some joked that just censoring the problem was also a way of dealing with it. “Oh great, they solved the grocery shopping problem,” popped up as a recurring joke on Weibo after the hashtag page was removed.

The hashtag ‘Shanghai Buy Groceries’ first started trending on Chinese social media on March 23, when Shanghai residents started worrying about an impending lockdown amid spiking Covid19 cases.

Although Chinese state media reported on March 24 that Shanghai health authorities reiterated they had no plans to impose a citywide lockdown – and two people accused of spreading rumors about an alleged citywide lockdown were even placed under police investigation -, the city announced its phased lockdowns three days later and scenes of panic buying at local supermarkets ensued.

But around April 8, the moment when the hashtag’s popularity surged, many residents faced food shortages as their home supplies ran out and grocery orders did not come through. While some residents started receiving food boxes issued by the local government, most compounds and buildings also set up their own community WeChat group to place bulk orders at certain food vendors which then deliver the group purchase to the community, where it is distributed by volunteers or property management employees.

Earlier this week, Shanghai implemented a new measure that divides residential units into three risk categories depending on whether or not there have been any cases of Covid in their communities for a stretch of two weeks. For at least 15 million residents, their locked-down status remains unchanged – and for those in the ‘precautionary’ communities, their status could also be downgraded to the ‘locked down’ level the moment a positive case pops up again.

E-commerce and food delivery platforms such as Ele.me and JD have been sending more staff to Shanghai from other parts of China to help ensure quicker and smoother sorting and delivery processes. On April 13, many households also received their first (free) food boxes.

By Wednesday, hashtags such as “Shanghai Residents Are One by One Receiving Supplies” (#上海市民陆续收到物资#) and “Delivery Drivers Increased to Help Shanghai” (#多地快递小哥增援上海#) were circulating on social media. But on Weibo, the hashtag page for “Shanghai Groceries” still comes up with no results.

For some Shanghai residents, the pace of food delivery, even with improved delivery logistics, hasn’t been quick enough to alleviate their current food shortages. Others are also complaining about the costs of their ordered groceries, some spending 285 yuan ($45) or more on some basic groceries including noodles and vegetables.

One Weibo user asks: “Please, where can I buy reasonably priced meat, eggs, and green onions?”

“It’s easier to get a Shanghai license plate than groceries around here,” another netizen complained.

For some, doing online groceries has become an Olympic game; netizens are posting videos of setting a 5AM alarm clock, jumping out of bed, and entering their online orders as fast as they can. One video showed a wife cheering on her husband while his thumb was going as fast as possible to place grocery orders via his smartphone e e-commerce app.

“If I have to keep grabbing groceries like this, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown,” one thirty-something lady from Shanghai wrote on Weibo: “I really hope the situation in Shanghai gets better soon. What happened to the city I grew up in?”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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