By Chen Yang
Despite an array of choices from company cafeterias to Chinese and Western fast food chains, a good lunch is hard to find, say white-collar workers in metropolitan cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
A survey of 30,000 professionals in downtown Shang'hai, conducted recently by the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, showed that about 56 percent of the respondents weren't satisfied with what they munch for lunch.
Shanghai white collars on average spend almost 19 yuan ($2.80) for lunch, said the survey, and the majority said"bad tasting food and unsanitary restaurants were their major complaints.
"I bring a home-made lunch everyday, because it's healthy and cheaper,"said Jiang Yingying, a 25-year-old who works in Shanghai's Pudong area.
Hou Juan, a 27-year-old public relations company employee in Beijing Fortune Plaza, in the heart of Beijing's Central Business District, said lunch has been a problem since she began working in the 42-story office building.
"I prefer a Chinese style lunch within 20 yuan ($3), but a lunch in restaurants near our office building cost at least 35 yuan ($5) per person,"she told the Global Times. I bought a bento, including a meat dish, two vegetable dishes and rice, at a fast food outlet for 12 yuan ($1.80), and the taste is only just ok.
Where to eat?
Despite customer dissatis'faction, it's still a large market for fast food companies and caterers looking to cash in both within and outside the office buildings.
Fast food companies are the leading category in China's catering industry, according to the Catering Blue Book released jointly by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the China Cuisine Association in June.
But most employees eat from the company trough during the noon hour largely because the prices are cheaper. Statistics from China Cuisine Association show 40 percent of white collars eat lunch at com'pany cafeterias and 30 percent eat fast food.
"We manage more than 30 cafeterias in the office buildings in downtown Beijing, and sell about 20,000 bentos every day,Zhang Liguo, manager of Zhenda Fast Food Catering, told the Global Times.Our meal with a meat dish, a vegetable dish, a soup, and a bowl of rice for 12 yuan is the best seller.
However, Beijing's Hou is not a Zhenda fan."The food in our cafeteria, which is run by Zhenda, doesn't taste good, and I'd prefer to go to the fast food chains near our office building if I have more time for lunch,"she said.
Millions of unsatisfied lunch customers such as Hou are increasing the competition between domestic and foreign fast food chains and Zhang said he feels the crunch."We also face competition from foreign companies, such as the US's Aramarke, Frances Sodexho and UK's Compass,"he said.
A fast business
Of the top 100 fast food and catering companies, 15 are China-based and generated a total sales revenue of 32.5 billion yuan ($4.8 billion) in 2008, a 22.33 percent increase year-on-year, which occupies 31.85 percent of the total revenue of the top 100 companies, said the book.
Among them are Kungfu, a leading Chinese fast food chain, which has 332 outlets and a revenue that experienced a 50 percent growth year-on-year in 2008. It plans to open 100 to 150 outlets in 2009, according to President Cai Dabiao.
But the competition isn't just from the likes of US-based McDonald's, KFC or Pizza Hut. Yoshinoya, a popular Japanese fast food chain featuring rice and sushi dishes, cooperated with Ting Hsin International Group, a Taiwan founded food group, to establish a joint venture in September and plans to open nearly 800 outlets in China in the next five years.
Yonghe King, another popular Chinese fast food chain that was acquired by Philippine fast food giant Jollibee Foods in 2007, will open more than 500 new outlets by the end of 2014, said Director Qiu Zhifeng at a press conference last month. The group currently has 157 outlets in China and had an income of 600 million yuan ($87.9 million) last year.
Dicos, a Western fast food brand under Taiwan's Ting Hsin, has said it will have 10,000 chains on the mainland by 2030. Currently Dicos has more than 1,000 outlets in China, a number nearly equal to McDonald's.
The Shanghai survey also showed that one third of the white collars in Pudong's Lujiazui area prefer burgers, fried chicken and pizza because they are fast and convenient.
"I'll eat hamburger or pizza when I am busy at work, even though they are not healthy, and usually cost much more than Chinese meals," said Shanghai's Jiang.
To help both local caterers and disgruntled diners such as Jiang and Hou, some local governments have launched "lunch projects" in their business districts.
Shanghai contracted with 26 catering companies in the Jingan District in April to provide 200,000 lunches ranging from 6 yuan ($0.90) to 26 yuan ($3.80).
"The companies have made a significant tax contribution to the local government, so we should do something to help solve their employees'lunch problems,"Gong Deqing, of the Jingan District Committee, said in an online interview in April.We also provide sub'sidies to some of the catering companies on the list.
Qingdao, in Shandong Provice, also launched a lunch project in April. White collars can buy lunch ranging from 6 yuan to 10 yuan ($1.50) from lunch vans, which are run by eight companies under the supervision of the local authority.
One lunch van can dish out 200 lunches daily and more than 100,000 white collars in the city are enjoying the service, said Zhou Wenling, an official in Qingdao Southern Area's Commerce Bureau.
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