Despite a scandal earlier this year, when thousands of dead pigs were found floating in a river near Shanghai, which may have momentarily affected the popularity of pork in China, pork is a nationwide staple.
According to a study by the Earth Policy Institute, pork is China’s meat of choice. The country is home to half of the world’s pigs, which account for nearly three-fourths of its meat consumption. With pork being the main feature of many traditional Chinese dishes, like Chairman Mao’s reported favorite -- braised pork belly -- it’s a surprise that chicken-focused KFC (NYSE:YUM) has been able to reign as fast food champion in the country.
For a variety of reasons, that may soon change. While McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) has played second fiddle to the Kentucky-originating fast food brand in China for years, its recent rollout of a pork product could be the key to the Chinese consumer’s taste buds. According to local magazine The Beijinger, McDonalds is hoping to build on one of its most popular items, the Chicken McNugget, with the Spicy Pork McBite.
“Done in a Chicken McNuggets style, these porky spheres of goodness have a crispy coating like their poultry counterparts,” Michael Wester, Beijinger founder and columnist, wrote after trying it himself. In the past, KFC was the crown jewel of fast food in China, often used as a case study for business students in cracking the great China market. While KFC is still extremely popular, and ranked as China’s most powerful foreign brand by brand-equity firm Millward Brown earlier this summer, a series of recent marketing faux pas has threatened the chicken chain’s success.
Following a bout of avian influenza in China earlier this year, KFC also weathered a scandal when its local suppliers were accused of fattening chickens with antibiotics and hormones. While KFC’s China numbers are slowly rebounding, this is McDonald’s opportunity to try and pull ahead.
Millward Brown ranked the Golden Arches as the seventh most popular foreign brand in China. With almost 2,000 franchises in the country as of this summer and a new China-friendly menu item, the way to China’s wallets could be through McNugget-style pork.
“In the country that consumes more pork than any other in the world, Spicy Pork McBites could be a hit,” Wester wrote. “The only question is whether Chinese consumers will actually go to McDonald’s for the meat that already appears in most Chinese dishes.”