International fast food brands operating in China are having to look beyond simply expanding their footprint and localising their menus, as domestic brands improve their offer and food delivery apps change consumer expectations.

“The same trends that are shaping and sparking new growth of many categories in China can also be observed in the fast food category,” according to Benoit Garbe, senior partner at Prophet in Shanghai.

Writing in Campaign Asia, he lists these as: premiumisation, personalisation, hyper-convenience and the prevalence of mobile-first and online-to-offline (O2O) total experience.

Chinese consumers are increasingly demanding food that is fresh and that looks good (in order to share on social media), while also searching out new tastes and concepts – developments that present “a huge opportunity for niche brands to enter the more premium side of the QSR market,” says Garbe.

But novelty alone cannot be a long-term plan, he adds. Brand need to use data and observation to identify and react to ever-changing tastes and expectations.

“From payments to menu selection, in-store ordering and pickup, home delivery to loyalty programs and coupons, consumers expect to exert minimal effort while reaping maximum gains on their dining experiences,” he argues.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the rise of food delivery apps: waimai is now so fast and convenient, “it is not uncommon to come across people who mainly live off food ordered through delivery apps,” according to Veronika Spurna, a Yenching Scholar at the Yenching Academy at Peking University.

But the popularity of food delivery brings environmental problems, from disposal of plastic packaging to deforestation as billions of wooden chopsticks are included with orders.

Spurna was one of a team that proposed a simple nudge to address the latter issue with consumers having to specifically request cutlery when they order, a suggestion that has been taken up by several apps, including Meituan and, The Diplomat reported.

And in a competitive market, being able to claim your brand is environmentally sustainable could be a useful advantage.

Sourced from Campaign Asia, The Diplomat; additional content by WARC staff