Dico’s: KFC + McDs

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In 1994, when China’s domestic market began to open to international fast-food companies like KFC and McDonald’s, Chinese and Taiwanese tycoons launched “Dico’s.” The food is a tad cheaper than in KFC and McDonald’s.

Image result for dicos menu

It is now as popular as the international brands. Dico’s is heavy on the chicken but also specializes in fries and some franchises have traditional hamburgers.

Some stores also serve Chinese-style breakfast like dumplings and porridge. I grew up calling this “oatmeal” but the Chinese use the term “porridge,” which seems as Dickensian as the word “gruel.”

I think Dicos could have made even more money, and been even more successful, by streamlining Chinese food. After all, these outfits (Dico’s, KFC, and McDs) are not as popular as the restaurant chains serving traditional dishes or hot pot menus (where people wait in line on weekends to get in while the fast-food franchises next door are nearly empty).

Back in the 1990s, the expectations for McDonald’s were grand, perhaps unrealistic. The company ran into all kinds of problems (legal and logistic, since the concept of drive thru does not really exist here), but McDs is now poised to reach 5,000 stores in China by 2021. Still, McDonalds was overly-optimistic back in the 1990s.

I advance the hypothesis that Dicos was never really about making money. Dico’s was about building a Great Wall of Fast Food. Foreign fast-food frachises companies could not be allowed to enter China without some kind of cultural response.

Also, some of China’s power players wanted to participate, in their own way, in the western-global custom of fast food. Like drinking Coca-Cola, eating this food has become a sacrament symbolizing the commodification not just of food but also of the experience of the meal itself.

For globalization to make inroads, the leisurely family meal, with no real beginning and no real end, must be replaced by a time-constrained ritual.

Thus, the Chinese required their own churches and temples of fast-food. Hence, Dico’s was born.

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