China Targets Taiwan with Peking Duck

CHINA - A number of leading restaurant brands in the mainland are aiming to expand their business to Taiwan as early as this year.
calendar icon 31 July 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

As political tensions ease and trade ties boom, the Chinese mainland is taking on a new challenge - to win over Taiwan with its culinary clout, according to official sources in China.

A number of leading restaurant brands in the mainland, notably Peking Quanjude, Tianjin Goubuli and Chongqing Cygnet, are aiming to expand their business to the island as early as this year, the companies and reports say.

Others might follow, with a delegation from more than 20 restaurant chains scheduled to visit Taiwan next month on a fact-finding trip, according to the Beijing-based China Cuisine Association.

The expansion became possible when Taiwan recently lifted a decade-old ban on investment by firms or individuals from the mainland - the latest step forward in rapidly improving ties.

Under the new investment measures in effect since June 30, mainland investors will be permitted to buy into 100 categories in the island's infrastructure, manufacturing and service sectors, including restaurants.

Over the years, various Chinese cuisines have taken root in Taiwan. Famous dishes, such as Peking duck and Sichuan hot pot, have become regular favourites on the island.

Business and civil exchanges have boomed since Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou took office last year.

The main challenge for mainland investors is to find the right local partner and serve genuine cuisine despite the lack of original ingredients - the reason hot pot chains Tanyutou and Little Sheep stumbled in Taiwan after managing to invest indirectly through Hong Kong, observers say.

"Tanyutou's partner wasn't an industry pro while Little Sheep just couldn't pull it off when its key ingredient, the Inner Mongolian sheep, was unavailable," says food critic, Wang Jue-yao.

Quanjude, the most famous Peking duck restaurant, is facing similar obstacles because of Taiwan's ban on the mainland's poultry imports over bird flu concerns.

"We want to make authentic Peking roast duck but Peking duck has fatty skin and tender meat while Taiwanese duck is leaner. There is still some gap in taste," said Quanjude chef, Bi Quansheng, at a recent promotion in Taipei.

The stakes are even higher now for the mainland players looking to conquer Taiwan's competitive culinary world, critic Wang says.

"Since no one has been successful, companies like Quanjude, which sees itself as the number one restaurant brand, must succeed at the first try," she says.

Some local restaurateurs, however, are sceptical about their mainland peers expanding to the island amid the recession.

"It is already very difficult to turn profits in Taiwan's restaurant business and the recent economic downturns make it even harder," says Chuang Li-yu, who has run a Peking duck restaurant in Taipei for 30 years.

"I think those big-name restaurants can generate some buzz at first but after the novelty wears off they have to build a loyal clientele," she says.

Jennifer Shang, chief of China Cuisine Association's international division, is optimistic, saying Tanyutou's closure in Taiwan was "an individual case" which should not discourage others.

"Members of our delegation are interested in the Taiwan market. They are looking forward to seeing it first hand and exchanging ideas with Taiwanese restaurateurs," she says.

Quanjude got a boost during a recent two-week food festival in the island's two largest cities Taipei and Kaohsiung, with patrons fully booking its duck banquet priced at around NT$7,260 (US$220) for a table of five.

"We are confident and it has long been our wish to make roast duck for people in Taiwan," says Quanjude vice general manager, Liu Xiaohong, in Taipei.

"We believe it will meet most people's taste."

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