China seafood restaurant chain opens 700th store, sign of shift in consumer tastes

Published on
September 19, 2019

A Chinese seafood hot pot restaurant chain has opened its 700th franchised store in Xian amid signals that younger Chinese consumers are shifting preferences.

Ai La Bo Bo (which also uses the English name ‘I Love Bo Bo’), plans to increase its outlet network from 700 to 1,000 stores in the next three years, according to Jiang Xiao Ye, founder and CEO of the company – which is based in Shijiazhuang, a city two hours by train from Beijing. The firm has gotten to 700 stores in less than four years, well ahead of the company’s original timeline; it had projected hitting 700 stores in 2020.

Younger Chinese consumers are less fussy about seafood being fresh and want cheap, fast food, according to Jiang, who relies on domestically produced tilapia and imported pangasius for his restaurant’s staples. The firm serves pangasius in its hot pot series with typical dishes selling at CNY 20  (USD 2.81, EUR 2.54) per person. One of the fast food firm’s key suppliers, Shanghai Fenglei International Trading Co., buys from Nam Viet Corp, a leading Vietnamese pangasius producer. 

Statistics in China indicate that the demand for more processed seafood is growing. Processed seafood output went from 20.5 million tons in 2014 to 21.5 million tons in 2018, according to statistics in the annual fisheries yearbook, published by the Ministry of Agriculture. Frozen processed seafood increased from 67.7 percent of overall processed output in 2017 (13.17 million tons) to 70.2 percent of China’s overall processed seafood output (15.1 million tons) in 2018, according to the yearbook. 

Dry processed seafood (14 percent of overall seafood output) is static at three million tons, the same figure in 2014 and 2018. China’s overall seafood output rose from 59.7 million tons in 2014 to 64.5 million tons in 2018. 

Growth in Chinese disposable income and urbanization are key drivers in the growth of mass market convenience dining as typified by the pangasius-consuming chains like Ai La Bo Bo and the ‘Dao He’ hot pot chain, which uses the slogan “eat in five seconds” to tempt younger customers. Projections by management consultancy McKinsey suggest 850 million Chinese, or about 60 percent of the total population, will be living in urban areas in 2020, up from about 650 million in 2010. China’s seafood consumption increased by over 50 percent between 2007 and 2017 to stand at 62 million tons in 2017.

Photo courtesy of Ai La Bo BO

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