Peru, Bastion of Fast Food

LIMA — There are more North American fast-food restaurants in China than any other emerging market, which isn’t much of a shocker. The surprise is the country with the greatest concentration of the eateries: Peru.

Considering that it’s a nation so well-known for its cuisine that it exports its own restaurants to other countries, it’s interesting to note that hungry Peruvians in populated areas have to travel, on average, just 1.1km to find a fast-food joint, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

This is all good news for fast-food companies, which are increasingly counting on Latin America for growth after thriving in China.

“We’re starting to see the emergence of Brazil and South America being a hotbed for US restaurant franchises to go and open up,” said Darren Tristano, Executive Vice-President at food industry consultant Technomic Inc. “Now that Asia has already started, I think South America is really going to be where the growth is.”

The first American chain opened in Peru in 1981 and the result is evident. KFC and Burger King are doing a brisk trade, as is Bembos, Peru’s biggest burger chain.

Peru is finally reaping gains from free-market policies adopted in the 1990s. Peruvians now spend more time shopping and eating at a growing number of malls and new shopping districts, increasing demand for fast food. That market grew 15 per cent last year, according to data from the Peruvian Chamber of Franchises.

KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King first moved into Peru in the 1980s and 1990s, and have since branched out beyond Lima to the other thriving cities. Today, US chains have 60 per cent of the market.

“Foreign brands have much more experience and they have a structure and operating capacity that brands in Peru haven’t been able to develop,” said Diego Herrera, President of the Lima-based chamber. “They’re brands that have studied their marketing, their customers, their processes almost to perfection. They come here and advance very quickly, filling gaps at a sort of pace that Peruvian businesses can’t match.”

Local entrepreneurs are also tapping into foreign interest in Peruvian cuisine to develop new fast-food concepts. Peruvian outlets increased sales by 26 per cent last year, compared with 15 per cent for foreign brands, according to the chamber. The restaurant industry as a whole grew 9.4 per cent last year, according to the statistics agency.

“The market is going to become more favourable for Peruvian brands, as long as they are sustained by a solid corporate structure,” Herrera said. “This is only the beginning.” BLOOMBERG

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