Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Food Franchises Flying High!

If memory serves me right, it was in the beginning of the eighties that the American fast food franchises started their invasion of Malaysia, bringing a piece of American Pie onto our shores. Without any apple pie sighted, KFC and A&W managed to entrenched themselves into the Malaysian food market, spinning out of their early beachhead as the place for family treats and cool hang-outs for the Americana aspiring youths to the current plain vanilla spot to grab a quick bite of chicken or burgers and fries. To be seen in one was no longer a special occasion, just like going to a warong somewhere.

Their success brought in the next wave of mostly chicken and burger franchises to challenge the status quo, with only the global juggernaut McD managing to carve out their own piece of empire locally. Wendy’s that had the cheek to ask their competitors “Where’s the beef”, Grandy’s, THE innovator of free refills and brought the first taste of their 'sinnamon' cinnamon rolls to the Malaysian masses, White Castle that had excellent steamed mini burgers and Popeye’s alternative southern-style fried chicken tried to take their bite of the Malaysian market but found themselves biting the dust instead as they failed to capture our national taste buds. Even the Japanese burger chain MOS with their oriental tasting burgers like teriyaki and rice burgers failed to convince the masses to take a different approach to having their burgers and chickens. Only the latecomer Burger King managed to do so with their outsized packaging that played well to our national more for less psyche even when Carl's Jr that tried that same tactic with their oversized charbroiled burger failed earlier due mainly to their poor marketing, indifferent products and location methinks. Imagine you needed to go to the KL Bird Park to get a bite and that's about the only place I know where they had an outlet. And those who has been there would remember well the indifferent service you got there. Fast food at its worst I could say.

Instead it was the pizza palazzos like Pizza Hut and Shakey’s that managed to cut a slice of the increasingly crowded fast-food market, by offering fast food for families in a faux fine dining atmosphere. Malaysian finally had an alternative to fried chicken and burgers and fries in order to take their family out for some economical western food, in a real western style restaurant even, without resorting to the pricier and haughtier real deal that can actually be daunting to some. Now you have the ‘starter restaurant”, where you can learn to use the western concept of fork and spoon and rolling spaghetti and meatballs without embarrassment as the waiters and waitresses are just ordinary people like you, not some high and mighty maitre-de wannabes. And when Pizza Hut introduced the concept of home delivery, not only students adopted it as their lifeline but families took to it like ducks to water as they now do not need to dress up to go out. Throw in the initial snob appeal of silently shouting to your neighbours that we are having western food delivered tonight, and you get the idea why this caught on like wild fire. This even led to the introduction of the competing Domino's pizza that emphasized their home delivery service.

Cottoning to the niche that fast food needs to cater for family dining, initially struggling chicken franchises like Kenny Rogers and Nando’s began fine-tuning their outlets to cater for these families who want convenient meals in a fine setting and they finally now has better response than before. Nonetheless real upscale franchises has actually made silent inroads into the local market, the more visible being Chili’s and Dome. Finding a ready market in the Yuppies of the nineties, they have evolved into family fine dining restaurants as we turned into a baby boomer society ourselves. Now new franchises has ventured into the market like Tony Roma’s, and one in particular that I hope will soon arrive is Red Lobster that should bring a more affordable culture of fine seafood dining to the Malaysian palates, though we already have Manhattan Fish Market, a Malaysian Chain masquerading as a foreign origin. But we have to tip our hats to these local franchises like those that readily come to mind like 1901, Marrybrown, Jollybee, Sugar Bun that has given the foreign franchises a run for their money, not only locally but internationally. Now if only the government initiated franchises, remember Sate Ria and Murtabak Pak Din, can actually make their own mark instead of becoming short fused shooting stars, then maybe we can really become a kitchen to the world as we really have a great food culture to capitalise from.

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