Asian descent

 
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Asian restaurants and fast-food chains are nothing new to the UK market, yet most key players have been British-based or founded.

Just lately, however, we have seen a 'descent' into the UK market of overseas operators and chains who already run established businesses in their home markets.

Early December saw the streets of Covent Garden buzzing with 4-hour long queues for the hotly anticipated opening of Din Tai Fung. This Taiwanese dumpling chain is best known for its soup dumplings, Xiaolongbao. Following a successful launch, they will be opening a second site in early 2019 in London's Centrepoint. The launch of Filipino multinational Jollibee drew even bigger crowds, with diners queuing up to 18 hours for a taste of the chain's famous "Chickenjoy".

So, why have these Asian operators been able to attract so much attention in an otherwise tumultuous time for the food and beverage sector?

Product-led USP

The growth of these chains, therefore, comes at a time where diners are increasingly demanding authenticity. In contrast, to more British-run chains such as Wagamama, who offer breadth of range to drive appeal, the majority of London's new Asian openings have established their unique selling points by focusing on a concise range or specific type of dish.

Old Chang Kee prides itself on its famous Singaporean curry puffs, Din Tai Fung on its Xiaolongbao, and Yi Fang on its Mudflip Milk Tea.

Cosmopolitan appeal

London's ethnic diasporas and communities, both permanent and temporary, have grown, with consumers driving demand through the need for familiarity and home comforts. 

The Asian brands and chains have therefore taken advantage of this; with Jollibee's first location situated in Earl's court, an area historically known to have a large Filipino community. This serves to further validate the authenticity.

Finding a niche

While Imperial Treasure focuses on award-winning Chinese cuisine from its extensive site in St James', achieving two Michelin star status, Bubble Tea House, Yi Fang, operates from a site off Chinatown just wider than your average door.

It is apparent that these new openings have been tactical in finding niches not only across cuisines and even individual dishes, but also by price point and format.

Social Media

The pedigree of these chains has been built through their specialisms, but their global recognition has been amplified through social media. They have attracted large online followings, with brands such as Jollibee accruing millions of views for their YouTube campaigns or Din Tai Fung receiving praise from celebrities such as Katy Perry.

In the UK, social media has been increasingly used to bang the drum for new restaurant openings, building anticipation and hype.

The future?

Whilst, the UK F&B industry has become more competitive and challenging, with hundreds of restaurant closures in 2018, the growth of Asian restaurant and fast-food chains looks set to continue with Hai Di Lao, one of China's biggest hot pot restaurants, and Coco Ichibana, a Japanese curry chain, set to open their first European locations in London later this year.

Operators and investors both home and abroad will be taking note, with a keen eye on understanding these trends and identifying opportunities to invest and participate in this growing segment.

Tej Panchal