Wednesday, December 12, 2018

More American fast food arrives

American brands, both businesses and products, can be found throughout New Zealand, though there are plenty that aren’t here, of course. The fast food industry is particularly well represented, with another chain planning to launch next year, and a convenience store chain already opening locations.

Restaurant Brands, which currently runs KFC, Carl’s Jr., and Pizza Hut in New Zealand, announced this week that they’re bringing Taco Bell to New Zealand, something that’s been rumoured for many years. Mexican food of any iteration—real Mexican, Tex-Mex, or Californian-Mexican—is still pretty rare in New Zealand, so there’s at least a potential for it to succeed here, given it operates at the lower price end of the market, as the main burger chains do, too.

Restaurant Brands runs Taco Bell in Hawaii, Guam, and in New South Wales in Australia. They think that Sydney in particular is a model for what they can do in New Zealand. Over the next few years the company plans open 60 Taco Bell units, with about 20 in New Zealand.

The NZ Herald was particularly eager over the news, telling us what Taco Bell could cost in New Zealand, and that the first unit “could” open by July next year. I don’t know if New Zealanders are waiting with baited breath for Taco Bell to open, but it seems like the Herald might be.

Restaurant Brands used to run Starbucks in New Zealand, but they sold that business this past September to a company owned, in part, by a company that runs coffee cafes, which certainly sounds like a better “fit” than Restaurant Brands’ focus on fast food. [See also: “Why Starbucks 'struggled' in Kiwi coffee culture”].

There are, of course, some people who hate the very idea of Taco Bell, turning up their noses at it. So, there’s a kind of irony in the fact that Restaurant Brands appears to be about to be taken over by a Mexican company. Business is business, after all.

Another brand that originated in the USA is rolling our locations in New Zealand, and it’s entering a market that has far less competition.

Last month, Circle K Stores NZ opened their first location in Cook Street in Auckland. The second location opens in about a week in the Newmarket part of the city.

Circle K was founded in El Paso, Texas, in 1951, but is now owned by Canadian company Alimentation Couche-Tard. There are few American-style 24-hour convenience stores in New Zealand, most of them are connected to petrol stations (and the earliest of those didn’t allow customers into the shop in the evening, making them pay and get their goods through a teller-like window).

In New Zealand, the nearest equivalent to a convenience store is what we call a dairy, basically a very small, family owned and run superette. They all close in the evening. After that are small grocery stores, like Four Square (which also closes in the evening), and sometimes the shops of petrol stations, which may or may not be open into the night (or 24-hours).

When I lived in Chicago, I used 7-Eleven or White Hen Pantry locations when I was out late for whatever reason and normal grocery stores were all closed. Circle K plans to be similarly useful in New Zealand, locating stores where apartments (in particular) are higher in density, and that’s a niche for which there’s little or no competition at the moment.

They also offer American-style hot dogs and coffee, among other things, but the photos of their cabinet food on their Facebook Page shows that, as other American fast food companies have done, they have NZ-focused food on offer, with all the sorts of things that Kiwis would expect at any modern petrol station shop: Meat pies, sausage rolls, and backed goods like lamingtons.

I think Circle K could do well, since there’s nothing else quite like it. Like it is for every other business, they’ll need consistently good quality and service and prices that Kiwis think are fair—the fundamentals, in other words.

I haven’t personally heard any rumours of any other US chains poised to enter the New Zealand market, though supposedly Amazon, which opened a distribution centre in Australia, is looking to do the same here so it can get into the grocery delivery market. I’m a little meh about that, though, because we’ve heard for years that Ikea was coming, and it never has. Also, when I arrived in New Zealand there was talk of Australian-based department store David Jones entering New Zealand, but it’s only doing so now, more than two decades later. But, then, I was surprised when Krispy Kreme Donuts opened here, so I’m clearly not very good at predicting such things.

I’m pretty relaxed about all this “creeping Americanisation” as it’s sometimes called. People like what they like, and they’ll discard whatever doesn’t work for them. For example, Australian chicken chain Red Rooster didn’t work here (much to my surprise), and they quit New Zealand only some five years after opening their first unit here.

In general, I think that people should be free to like whatever they like, and it’s silly to judge people based on something as trivial as what fast food chain they like. Maybe it’s because I like fast food, or maybe it’s also because I think what people choose to enjoy is none of my business. Live and let eat, I say.


rogerogreen said...

There are several restaurants in the US that are joint ventures - KFC AND Taco Bell, e.g. I tend to think the staff does each line less well, But it's been some years since I had Taco Bell at all.

Arthur Schenck said...

I haven't had Taco Bell for years, either—MANY years, in fact. I think the last time I was at one could easily have been five or more years before I moved to New Zealand, so that would be more than 25 years—pushing 30 years, I guess. Unless maybe we went to one during one of our trips to the USA, though I don't remember that. Still, if I get the chance, I'll try it again. Given their strategy, I'm not sure how often I'll be near one, but I probably will be eventually.