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Foreign brands' adventures in localization for the China market

The city of Wuhan has gone viral on Chinese social media once again, but this time it was for something more run-of-the-mill – namely, its food. On January 18, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) rolled out Wuhan's famous dish "Reganmian" (hot and dry noodles) on its breakfast menu, attracting hungry foodies all around the town to catch a bite of this special menu item.

This is the first time that KFC, an American-style fast-food restaurant, has served Chinese noodles with chopsticks for its customers, most of whom had positive reactions towards KFC's latest attempt at localization. Many said the flavor is similar to the authentic "Reganmian" sold at street stalls throughout the city.

People outside Wuhan, especially netizens on social media, are also clamoring for this creative new dish. "Only in Wuhan? Try other cities; people in Wuhan can eat Reganmian every day," one comment wrote under an official post from KFC on Weibo, one of China's most popular social media platforms.

"When will it be available across the whole country?" adds another.

A pivot in localization strategy

"Reganmian" is not the only traditional Chinese food on KFC's menu. In 2008, KFC introduced "Youtiao," or fried dough sticks, which was the first Chinese street snack offering to grace its menu, since becoming a signature dish at the restaurant. After tasting the fruits of an initial victory in its localization strategy, KFC went on to add a series of Chinese delicacies, including rice congee, tea leaf eggs, tofu, and Sichuan-style beef wraps, many of which have become top-selling products at this major US chain. As a hot trend chaser, KFC reinvented its menu last year, offering its customers "Luosifen," or river snail rice noodles, along with bubble tea, two of the most sought-after foods among a younger generation of Chinese consumers.

To seize the full potential of the Chinese market and increase its competitiveness, KFC set off on its adventure in food localization in 2004, when the company set up a marketing strategy to integrate itself into the country's local catering culture.

"Localization is a targeted form of marketing that focuses on reaching local and motivated buyers," said Zhu Danpeng, an analyst and expert on the Chinese food industry. "Companies will adapt their products, content and services to meet the needs of customers in their target market, ensuring that their products maintain their appeal to customers and quickly gaining market share," said Zhu.


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