SHANGHAI -- A chicken-packed menu and plans to shun television advertising are two ways Burger King Corp. hopes to succeed in China, Chairman and Chief Executive Greg Brenneman says.
"China is a big market, an important market and one where we need to play a role," he said in an interview, ahead of today's planned opening of the chain's first restaurant in China. The appetite for Western-style fast-food, he said, "looks like it's growing exponentially."
Burger King's arrival is just the latest sign that U.S. fast-food companies are rushing for footholds in China's richest and most populous city. A top Wendy's International Inc. official was in Shanghai last week scouting opportunities, and meat-maker Hormel Foods Corp. may open hot-dog stands, people familiar with the plans say. The companies had no immediate comment.
Burger King's initial plans in China are modest. The Miami-based fast-food chain intends to concentrate in the Shanghai area. Mr. Brenneman declined to predict how quickly Burger King might grow in China, but said logistical challenges mean it needs to build critical mass in a single city first.
Yet, gone are days when a hunger for foreign food guaranteed the success enjoyed over a decade ago by Kentucky Fried Chicken, now a unit of Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum! Brands Inc., and McDonald's Corp. Competition from foreign -- and local -- brands is keeping prices low: Burger King says its menu in Shanghai is priced at 40% to 50% of the U.S. level.
Some global chains already in China have been slow to expand. Domino's Pizza LLC, for instance, has just six restaurants in China, all in Beijing. Some have even pulled out, such as Schlotzsky's Deli Inc. of Austin, Texas. For Wendy's, entry to China would be its second look after a franchise plan in the late 1990s stalled.
McDonald's recently put its China team under new management and cited "weakness in China" in a global sales report last month. The company this month also pulled an advertisement criticized by some in China for showing a customer begging. A McDonald's spokeswoman didn't return calls for comment.