The video above entitled ‘For Love’ (为爱 – Wèi ài) was released online this month by Crystal CG. It’s an animation that resembles the great battle between the fast food giants KFC and McDonald’s as they fight to dominate China.

The history of KFC and McDonald’s in China
A logical place to start is the beginning. You may be surprised to know that it was KFC or as the Chinese call it Kěn Dé Jī (肯德基) who first entered China. Thursday 12th November, 1987 was the day when KFC opened its first restaurant in Beijing (shown in the image below).

McDonald’s aka Mài dāng láo (麦当劳) on the other hand, did not enter the Chinese market until 1990. Thus KFC had a 3 year head start.

KFC China: First restaurant in Beijing

The reason why KFC entered China before McDonald’s was because each produced differing research results of Chinese consumers. McDonald’s research said that the Chinese were very stubborn and were unlikely to take to McDonald’s products.

KFC on the other hand found quite the contrary, their research said the Chinese will love the ‘xīfāng de kuàicān’ (西方的快餐) which translates in English to ‘Western fast food’!

What happened next?
Well, at first, the restaurants sat peacefully side-by-side with KFC selling chicken and McDonald’s selling hamburgers – that was that. However, things soon turned ugly.

KFC vs. McDonalds - China Chicken Fight

McDonald’s was not satisfied with being second to KFC in China, so they started selling chicken wings too and so battle begun. In 1999, a full scale price war broke out between the two, but come 2004 despite McDonald’s attacks KFC‘s market share was 25% greater.

Why was KFC coming out on top?
The answer is simple. KFC understood and catered to the Chinese people far better.

Of course chicken was already a popular part of many meals in China but KFC did more than offer a new take on how to cook chicken, they adapted their whole product range to meet Chinese needs but more importantly their local needs. That’s right, province to province, and this gave KFC the edge over its rival as McDonald’s stuck firmly with its Western style.

Cue the McDonald’s fight back
In 2003, the McDonald’s slogan became ‘I’m lovin’ it’ and the importance the restaurant chain placed on the Chinese market was demonstrated in the advert they created which featured American singer / actor Leehom Wang (Wáng Lìhóng – 王力宏):

As well as this Maccy D’s began to open 24 hour branches, KFC quickly adapted an began to offer match the offering. The battle between the two was becoming fiercer and fiercer. The next plan of attack came in the form of McDonald’s drive-thru restaurants and these gave the big M chain a slight but key advantage.

McDonald's Drive Thru restaurant - China

McDonald's China - Nanjing

What does the future hold?

KFC is still outdoing McDonald’s and the chain is further catering greatly to the local Chinese markets as their recent ‘rice bowl’ ( ad campaign shows. However, McDonald’s are not giving up and their plans for next few years will certainly keep Colonel Harland Sander’s chain on its toes.

In fact McDonald’s has just kicked off its 20th anniversary celebrations in China with a lovely social media campaign on Douban.com

McDonald's Social Media campaign - Douban.com (20 years)

It seems the battle for China has really only just begun…

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