There are an infinite amount of staggering China statistics. One of my favourites is the quantity of meat. Over a billion pigs are in China, more than every other country combined, and 12 million of them are eaten every week. On average, a small Chinese village eats more hog than Egypt’s entire population living along the Nile. But to think that China is just about animals that oink would be unnecessarily underselling that other well-known white meat, the chicken.
As you read this blog, there will be over a billion chickens in China busily laying eggs, of which six billion will hatch, destined for the Lazy Susan sometime this year. And those home-grown chickens won’t alone satisfy China’s ravenous appetite. Poultry accounts for 75% of Chinese meat imports, which grew over 300% to $1.4 billion from 2005-2010. In 2006 the average Chinese urbanite consumed 8.3 kilograms of poultry per year, 244% more than they did in 1990. Although city dwellers averaged 19.1kg of pork, it only grew 108%.
Some pundits hypothesise that this growing love of chook comes from the Chinese becoming wealthier and more diet-conscious, therefore opting for healthier, leaner chicken over pork. But that theory falls flat when you note the large portion of chicken’s rise coming in the form of big buckets of greasy drumsticks from KFC and the slew of imitations.
Fastfood in China: Chicken vs. Hamburger
Nowhere is China’s love for chicken more obvious than KFC. Colonel Sanders’ restaurants rule the roost in China, blitzing every other chain for volume and profits. There are now more than 3,700 KFC outlets in China, with parent company Yum! Brands drawing up plans for 16,000 more. Yum! Brands, who also owns the much smaller Pizza Hut, accounts for 40% of China’s fast food market, slaughtering the number 2 ranked McDonalds’ 16% share and 1,100 stores.
Is the Chinese love of chicken solely responsible for The Colonel making a clown of Ronald McDonald? Partially, but KFC have been much smarter with their entry into China in what has become a well known lesson for foreign businesses with Chinese aspirations. While McDonalds virtually duplicated their menu from the USA, KFC took a good look at China’s considerably different tastes and tailored their menu much more to their liking. Top sellers include egg and vege soup, pickles, preserved eggs and everyone’s favourite rice porridge, zhōu. With Yum! Brands bringing home an operating profit of more than $2 billion in 2011, the Kentucky crew are doing something right.
Localized menus aside, it appears KFC has the leg up over McDonalds in the eye of China’s Internet censors. An Google search within China’s Great Firewall for “麦当劳”, McDonalds in Chinese, will temporarily disable your Internet connection (for around 90 seconds), whereas “肯德基”, KFC in Chinese, allows you to freely surf greasy chicken until your heart’s content. Is someone in the Internet Censoring Office getting a few sly buckets of drumsticks to help Yum! Brands along?
China: Paradise for those who love a good breast
Although KFC is popular, there’s much more to China’s chicken repertoire than the deep fried and battered. Chicken feet, cartilage, bones, skin, intestines, bowels, liver – all those lovely chicken bits that wouldn’t make the supermarket chiller back home, are things of beauty to your average Chinese foodie. The plump, succulent chicken breast doesn’t even get a look-in. Chinese consider breasts flavourless and too poultry-tasting, which is great for expats. When chicken breasts are for sale, they’re the cheapest meat of all; even at expensive expat supermarkets a nice slab of breast will set you back less than US$1. Although it probably wasn’t roaming free in an idyllic Chinese village, when the MSG and oil is all getting a bit much, those breasts are a godsend.
With the soaring price of pork in China, and chicken being much more efficient to farm, I suspect we’ll see many more of our feathered friends being served up in high rise apartments all over the mainland. Wonder what that’ll do to the price of a roast chicken in Wellington?