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The Industrial Revolution was both an exciting and devastating time for the common man. Possibilities of profit and economic improvement opened before him that had never previously existed. Although many did suffer more than they experienced improvements, as time passed, the overall quality of life improved for everyone as technologies provided the means to raise air quality standards, provide potable water, and sustained agriculture for the provision of food. Thus, in industrialized countries today, the lowest classes suffer little compared to their 19th century counterparts.
In recent decades, greater attention to the environmental impacts of food production have revealed that activities related to the production, transportation, and consumption of food make significant contributions to processes of global change. Food production will in turn experience significant impacts as a result of those processes of environmental change. In 2008, there were 960 McDonald's with 60,000 staff in China, and it represented the corporation's fastest growing market. To put this in perspective of KFC, which opened its first restaurant in 1987, had 2200 outlets in 456 cities in China by 2008 and was said to be expanding at the rate of one a day and to be better placed than McDonald's because 'Chinese people love chicken more than beef' (Wang 2008, p. 67).
The first McDonald's in China was opened in Shenzhen in 1990 and the first drive-through opened in 2007, five years after the first drive-through opened by KFC, but reflecting the accelerating pace at which the country was changing, at least in the cities, from a predominantly bicycle culture to a rapidly growing car culture (Stephen 2008, p. 7). In addition to the appeal of McDonald's as provide of a taste of American culture, with the Big Mac constituting an evocative 'symbol of Americana' (p. 4) and exemplifying 'the promise of modernization', the corporation's reputation for reliability and its self-promotion in terms of 'quality food, good service, cleanliness, and good value' (p. 2) resonates strongly in China where there have been significant and understandable concerns about food safety following a number of scares. To ensure its reputation for brand quality McDonald's has sought to maintain management control and has been cautious about franchising in China (p. 3).
In China, McDonald's relies upon independent suppliers, who are required to meet and maintain the company's standards and specifications. One McDonald's supplier is Bama Foods. Located in Beijing, it supplies apple, pineapple, and bean curd pies to various McDonald's restaurants in China. Another supplier is a joint venture named McKey Food Services Ltd., which is located in Shenzen city (Wang 2008, p. 68). The Chinese partner is the China Livestock Co. It produces meat for McDonald's in China. These suppliers have relatively high bargaining power because of the lack of suppliers that are able to meet McDonald's high standards of quality (p. 68).
In the fast food industry there are many options for consumers, including pizza, chicken, and frozen foods. The biggest competitor in China is probably cold and hot noodles. Noodles have been around much longer than hamburgers. The majority of the older population is more accustomed to eating them, and many Chinese prefer their taste to hamburgers. They are also less expensive. This could be a definite weakness for McDonald's.
There is constant threat of new entrants in the fast food industry because of low entry barriers. The greatest new entrant threat comes from local companies because they know the Chinese culture better than any foreign firm. The threat is prevalent due to low capital requirements and start-up costs and the lack of managerial complexity involved in running small restaurants.
Millions of people each year eat hamburgers under the 'golden arches' of McDonald's in China. Since McDonald's is primarily identified by its trademark name, protection of intellectual property rights is one of the most important legal considerations. These laws help protect McDonald's and its product in China.
Rather than considering the globalization of McDonald's as leading to increasing homogeneity, it is more appropriate to conceptualise the associated economic and cultural consequences in terms of adaptations and accommodations made by global corporations to local customs, tastes, and practices (p. 1) and, in turn, the various ways in which the same local forms are simultaneously modified and transformed through processes of engagement with and selection adoption of global influences and factors, what has been terms 'glocalisation', or the emergence of forms of 'difference-within-sameness'.
Notwithstanding its American heritage and global profile and presence, McDonald's has to some extent become a 'local' institution in parts of Asia by adapting to and accommodating the tastes of indigenous communities, successfully becoming assimilated through a process in which both local cultures and aspects of global corporate practice are to a degree transformed. For example, a significant contribution to cultural change, including local hygienic practices, table manners, and other aspects of conduct in restaurants, has been attributed to McDonald's by Stephen (2008, p. 1-2) and other analysts who have studied the complex forms of articulation between local cultures and global corporate influences in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo. But while new forms of 'difference' may have emerged, at the same time there are aspects of the experience of being in McDonald's restaurants in China that would resonate with consumers in McDonald's in other locations signifying elements of commonality.
When looking toward the future of the fast food industry in China, it would appear that McDonald's will continue to expand. The Chinese economy is primed to become the world's largest in the near future. There will also be more Western influence (p. 4) as more MNCs enter this alluring market. With Chinese people having more money and being subject to more influence from Western sources, the demand for McDonald's food could very well increase, especially if television becomes popular in China and Western stations provide services to the Asian superpower. The Chinese people will still eat noodles in great abundance, but McDonald's will become a daily part of their lives sometimes in the near future.