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17/07/02 . By VERNA YU, AP Writer . Yahoo! News . HONG KONG
McDonald's ventures into traditional foods and rattles Hong Kong restaurants
It was hard enough for the Mei Li Cafe when McDonald's set up not one, but two, outlets nearby in the Wan Chai bar district.
Now that the U.S. fast-food giant has started selling local-style rice dishes — trespassing into the cafe's main business — Mei Li's cashier Ho King-wah is really worried.
"We might have to pack up and go home sooner or later," said Ho, rushing to handle bills and hand out change at the hole-in-the wall diner, just across the street from a packed McDonald's outlet.
The debut of McDonald's local dinner plates — a tray meal including a mound of rice, chicken and a few stalks of broccoli — has gotten mixed reviews from customers.
"McDonald's is McDonald's. They should sell burgers, not rice," said Lam Yuet-kwan, an office assistant eating at Mei Li. "Now they are virtually forcing the small eateries out of business."
With McDonald's charging 22 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. dlrs 2.82) for the rice meal, local restaurants fear the marketing push will gobble up their remaining market share.
Business has been bad enough this year, with dozens of traditional Chinese eateries closing down amid an economic slump and record 7.7 percent unemployment.
"The operating environment is already bad. This is definitely putting pressure on us," said Chim Siu-lan, who works at a snack eatery opposite McDonald's.
Chim's restaurant offers a rice dish and a drink for 20 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. dlrs 2.56), but its crowded seating area isn't as comfortable as McDonald's.
McDonald's brought Western fast food to Hong Kong 27 years ago and now has 135 outlets in the territory. Although the hamburger chain sells rice-based items in many other Asian cities, the new chicken set dinners, sold only in the evening, are its first rice dishes here.
In response to questions from The Associated Press about claims that it was squeezing out more traditional competitors, McDonald said in a statement that it was only aiming to please its customers.
"We always aim to offer more choices and food products to accommodate local tastes. Our decision to offer a rice-base alternative is a result of what our customers are asking for," McDonald's said Wednesday in a statement. "The rice menu fits seamlessly into the dietary habits of Hong Kong Chinese with rice as their staple food."
Most older Hong Kong Chinese regard fast food as unhealthy and view it as more a snack than a meal. But the kids love it.
And McDonald's cheap prices are drawing in customers. Like many other fast-food outlets offering steep discounts, its tables almost always seem full.
Apart from the rice meal, McDonald's is offering deals such as hamburgers for 3 Hong Kong dollars (38 U.S. cents) each.
Stock trader Chan Kwok-wah, 55, who bought a hamburger, said he doesn't like burgers much, but the idea of getting a meal at that price was simply irresistible.
"It doesn't really suit my stomach, but it's cheap," Chan said.