For all of the cheese in China.

It turns out that – after last week’s two posts in regard to KFC China’s new Tender Beef Pentagon, and its strong, unmistakable relationship to Taco Bell’s hexagonal Crunchwrap Supreme – I am not the only American journalist-blogger in China strongly hankering for a Gordita. So the question remains: why won’t Yum, operator of the most successful restaurant chain in China (KFC), and the most successful “casual dining chain” in China (Pizza Hut), reset its Taco Bell franchise here?

Thanks to a tip from a reader, I found a possible answer (slash, urban myth) in a lengthy China International Business feature on why Yum has fared so spectacularly in China. Buried deep within the text, a consultant by the name of William Gibbons, identified as “a partner at Rainmaker International Associates, a China-US business development consultancy,” answers the question with this old war horse:

“The Chinese palette is just not ready for cheese – it just doesn’t work.”

The article doesn’t mention whether or not Mr. Gibbons and his company have a past or current working relationship with Yum. But in case they do (and the Rannmaker website intimates that they work in franchising and F&B), or in case the folks at Yum are stopping by this blog (strong evidence to suggest that you are), or in case anybody else is under the spell of this urban myth (including the CIB reporter who let Gibbons’ quote fly), allow me to share an image from the pizza menu distribted by the 350+ wildly successful Pizza Hut restaurants in China, to their customers:

Now get me my Chalupa.

5 comments

  1. Funny post but also good topic. I think maybe five years ago the Chinese people don’t like the cheese so much. But now it is more used to it especially in the big city.

  2. The Chinese casual dining market accepts cheese but they are urban and upper middle class mostly. KFC customers are a little more down market, less educated, less wealthy. But they will not accept cheese as easily. So Yum tried Taco Bell only for the top end of the market but it wasn’t really the Taco Bell you know in the US. They don’t have the courage to try the brand down market yet.

  3. Aren’t most Chinese people lactose intolerant? I’ve always understood that to be a major reason why dairy products are unpopular in China.

  4. For some reason, a lot of Overseas Chinese ARE lactose intolerant, but very few Mainland Chinese. I think it might be a cultural thing, or a Cantonese/Fujianese (as many Huaqiao are) thing.

    Milk, yoghurt, and especially ice cream seem to continue to increase in popularity. While some Chinese react to more intense cheeses like Westerners to stinky tofu, most are pretty open to milder varieties. McDonalds does okay with faux cheese on everything, and I think their falling behind KFC has more to do with beef versus chicken.

    I think the failures of Taco Bell, like A&W, was marketing and positioning, not the actual product. Otherwise hot dogs, wrap-type and crunchy things, go over pretty well. Look at Ikea. There are cheap frozen burritos, hot dogs, pizzas in a lot of the mini-marts now.

    An example: Orange Juliuses here used to have hot dogs on their menu, but never taught their staff how to cook them, to nuke the meat not the buns. Every other time I had one, it was a total disaster: cold frozen meat or a soggy nuked bun. So, I gave up, and I’m probably not the only one.

  5. Hey Lisa – Great comment, as always. I can’t say that I ever had an Orange Julius hot dog, but I’ve definitely had my share of “Orange Julius hot dogs.”

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