Coronavirus forces Chinese seafood chain to shift to home delivery

One of China’s fastest-growing seafood restaurant chains and a big pangasius buyer has battled through the coronavirus crisis by ramping up home deliveries and promising customers “real-time monitoring” of the body temperatures of delivery staff.

Foot traffic has plummeted at Yu Guo Tian Qing restaurants due to fears about the coronavirus, which has killed more than 900 people in China as it has spread to more locations after first being detected in the city of Wuhan in December. More than 40,000 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in China since the outbreak.

Yu Guo Tian Qing specializes in self-service roast fish dishes served in a youth-oriented atmosphere at low prices that appeal to mall-goers and office workers. Yu Guo Tian Qing is able to keep its prices affordable by relying heavily on pangasius imported from Vietnam, which sells at the restaurant for CNY 25 (USD 3.58, EUR 3.28) for a full fish served with braised tomatoes.

Despite the impact of the coronavirus, the seafood chain has kept open its new Beijing store, which recently opened inside a mall in Changping, a suburb of Beijing. Online orders have kept staff busy, according to a staff member who answered the phone for SeafoodSource.

With plans to open 100 new outlets in 2020, Yu Guo Tian Qing is part of a wave of informal dining chain operating menus that draw on traditional Chinese cuisine, while relying on low-cost inputs like pangasius and tilapia.

Chains like Yu Guo Tian Qing are driving up demand in China for inexpensive whitefish. China imported USD 144 million (EUR 131.8 million) worth of pangasius in the first six months of 2019, up nearly 30 percent year-on-year.

That demand does not yet seem to be declining due to the coronavirus. Nancy Huu, a sales executive with Hung Hau Agricultural Corp., which operates pangasius plants in Dong Thap and Ho Chi Minh for a largely Chinese and European customer base, said the coronavirus outbreak has not impeded a strong sales season thus far in 2020.

“We are not seeing any major impact in our orders, which are continuing to grow in China,” she told SeafoodSource.  

The Yu Guo Tian Qing chain is operated by Beijing-based management firm Xiao Ying Si Hai Ke Brand Management Co., one of several leveraging growth in consumer spending across China.  A Yu Guo Tian Qing hotline for prospective franchisees offers an enticing sales pitch: An outlet of 30 square meters can yield an income of up to CNY 60,000 (USD 8,600, EUR 7,900) per month, with each outlet requiring only two to three staff to operate.

“The dishes are supplied pre-prepared from a centralized supply center,” an executive manning the hotline explained to Seafoodsource. “All you need to do is heat it up and serve – there’s no need for a chef.”

Margins are as high as 70 percent and investment costs of CNY 100,000 (USD 14,300, EUR 13,100) in a lower-tier city, and three times that in downtown Beijing. That means initial investments can be recouped within eight months, the sales executive said.  

Photo courtesy of Yu Guo Tian Qing


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