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How can a fast food chain ever make money from a $1 burger?

1美元汉堡的“低端赚钱术”



More than half of the 900 Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in the UK were closed this week, sparking panic over chicken shortages. Tower Hamlets Metropolitan police in London tweeted to ask peckish people to stop calling them about the #KFCcrisis.

英国的900家肯德基餐厅最近有超过一半的店面暂时停止营业,引发一些消费者吃不到肯德基炸鸡的恐慌。伦敦警察甚至在Twitter上呼吁急躁的民众不要再因为#KFCcrisis(肯德基危机)给他们打电话。

It’s clear that hangry customers take their fast food seriously – so a new selling strategy adopted by the biggest chains in the US might really cheer them up.

很明显,饥饿的顾客很重视快餐——所以,美国最大的几家连锁快餐品牌采取的一项最新销售策略,可能令他们欢呼雀跃。

In January, the biggest names in the business rolled out heavily discounted menus across the US making their fast food even cheaper – less expensive than a loaf of bread or a carton of juice.

今年1月,这一领域的最大牌的几家企业在美国各地推出了超高折扣菜单,进一步降低了快餐价格——甚至比一条面包或一盒果汁还便宜。

In December, Credit Suisse financial analysts released a report that suggests a so-called fast food “pricing war” in the US  is hotting up. McDonald’s kicked off 2018 with a new line-up called the ‘$1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu,’ which allows customers to mix and match three price tiers.

12月,瑞士信贷金融(Credit Suisse)分析师发布了一份报告称,所谓的快餐"价格战"在美国愈演愈烈。麦当劳2018年推出了新的"1/2/3美元菜单",让客户可以混和匹配3种价位。

Rivals were quick to follow suit. Burger chain Wendy’s also put 20 new things on its menu priced at just a dollar each, followed swiftly by Tex-Mex chain Taco Bell, selling $1 ’nacho fries.’

竞争对手也迅速跟进。汉堡连锁温蒂(Wendy's)也在菜单上推出了20款仅需1美元的新品,墨西哥风味连锁塔可钟(Taco Bell)也迅速推出了1美元的"辣炸玉米片薯条"。

In the case of McDonald’s, Credit Suisse estimates that the company’s foot traffic in the US fell around 11% from 2012 to 2016 so the January drop in prices could be a further attempt to recover that traffic.

具体到麦当劳,瑞士信贷估计该公司在美国的客流量在2012至2016年间下滑约11%,所以1月的降价可能是为了恢复客流而采取的进一步举措。

But how is it possible to make money out of a $1 burger, particularly when the person serving it is likely earning around $10 an hour?

但怎么可能用1美元的汉堡赚到钱呢?要知道,服务员每小时工资可能都在10美元左右。

The answer is scale; sales of burgers or chicken dippers or fries – in huge numbers.

答案在于规模,也就是大量销售汉堡、炸鸡块或炸薯条。

With very few firms at the top –  this is  market of oligopolies – the firms work hard to differentiate their products from competitors, for example, branding food flame-broiled versus fried, or adding toys to kids’ meal deals.

作为一个寡头垄断市场,由于顶尖企业数量很少,所以各大公司都在努力实现与竞争对手之间的差异化。例如,有的主打熏烤,有的主打油炸,还有的则在销售儿童餐时赠送玩具。

Eventually, competitors begin out-discounting each other in a race to the bottom of prices. That’s according to Patricia Smith, a professor at the University of Michigan who specialises in the economics of fast food.

最终,竞争对手纷纷打折,价格越来越低。这番论述来自专门研究快餐经济的密歇根大学教授帕特里夏·史密斯(Patricia Smith)。

The key to this strategy? Hoping that customers buy loads of the discounted items.

这套战略的关键是什么?答案是薄利多销。

“McDonald’s will make money selling burgers for a buck if it can make the burger for less than $1 and sell lots and lots of burgers,” says Smith who says that sales of add-on items are also crucial. “Part of the strategy is to attract consumers in to the store and then entice them to buy more than just the burger – fries, drinks, desserts.”

"如果能用不到1美元制作出一个汉堡,并且实现巨大销量,麦当劳就能用售价1美元的汉堡赚钱。"史密斯说,她还补充道,附带产品的销量同样很重要。"这项战略的一部分是吸引消费者进店,然后诱惑他们购买汉堡以外的东西——薯条、饮料、甜品。"

Slashing prices to draw in customers can backfire though if cutbacks exceed food and production costs and cannibalise profits. Some Burger King franchise owners sued the company in 2009, because a corporate promotion required franchisees to sell a double cheeseburger for $1 that cost a $1.10 to make. The court ruled for Burger King.

但如果价格低于食品和制作成本,并且蚕食利润,那么通过降价来吸引消费者的战略就会适得其反。一些汉堡王的加盟商曾在2009年起诉该公司,原因是该公司当时的促销手段要求加盟商以1美元的价格销售双层芝士汉堡,但制作费用却高达1.1美元。法院当时判决汉堡王胜诉。

Whether or not this latest round of price cuts will succeed may depend on a lot of factors – including the changing face of the fast food industry.

这一轮降价能否成功或许取决于很多因素——包括快餐行业的变化。

Millennials are changing the way we eat lunch

千禧一代正在改变午餐方式

This drop in customers walking through the doors could be indicative of our changing tastes. People under 40 – Millennials and their teen and tween counterparts, Generation Z – are swerving away from calorific foods that may not be organic or free-range in droves. According to a 2015 global report by Nielsen, 41% of Generation Z and 32% of Millennials would "pay a premium for sustainably sourced ingredients," compared to 21% of Baby Boomers.

店内客流的减少可能表明我们的口味正在发生变化。40岁以下的人——千禧一代以及十几二十岁的"Z一代"——都在抛弃高热量食物,因为这类食物采用的食材可能并非来自有机种植或自由放养。根据尼尔森2015年发布的一份全球报告,41%的"Z一代"和32%的千禧一代愿意"为通过可持续渠道采购的原料支付溢价",而"婴儿潮一代"的这一比例仅为21%。

“Traditional fast food companies look stale and old to millennials, especially as compared to the ones selling choose-your-own fresh salads. They are desperate to get customers into the stores,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

"传统快餐公司在千禧一代眼中都很过时,尤其是跟那些选择出售新鲜自选沙拉的公司相比。他们都在急迫地吸引客户进店消费。"纽约大学营养、食品研究和公共健康教授马里昂·奈斯德(Marion Nestle)说。

That’s why companies like McDonald’s have partnered with ride-sharing company Uber to deliver to customers in the US, UK and Australia, under the name Uber Eats. (People under 40 are the most enthusiastic users of ride-sharing apps like Uber.)

正因如此,像麦当劳这样的公司才与专车公司Uber合作在美国、英国和澳大利亚通过Uber Eats提供外卖服务。(40岁以下的人愿意使用Uber这样的专车应用。)

“Five years ago, it was get ‘em in and get ‘em out,” says Martin Caraher, professor of food and health policy at City University of London. “Now it’s get ‘em to stay.” In the Noughties teenagers were often asked not to linger in the restaurants after buying their food. But head office now want to convince them to hang out after school, sit on comfy sofas to do their homework, use the wifi and then spend extra money on coffees or snacks.

"5年前是让人们买完东西后赶紧离开。"伦敦城市大学食品和健康政策教授马汀·加拉赫(Martin Caraher)说,"现在则是让他们留下来别走。"本世纪头10年,青少年在餐厅买完东西后往往会被要求不要逗留。但企业现在希望说服他们放学后留在餐厅内,坐在舒适的沙发上完成家庭作业,使用店内的Wi-Fi网络,然后多花些钱购买咖啡或小食。

How low can you go?

降价极限?

But, with prices for food on the menu dropping below the cost of ingredients used to make the meals, how can this be a viable business strategy?

然而,随着菜单上的食品价格降到比原材料还低的时候,这种商业战略是否仍然可行?

NYU’s Nestle says fast food economics rely on volume to work. “The objective is to get customers into the store – the more the merrier,” she says.

这种激进的折扣必须依靠高销量才能成功。纽约大学的奈斯德表示,快餐经济都要依靠销量才能成功。"目标是吸引客户进店——多多益善。"她说。

These tactics can build brand loyalty and steal customers away from other chains. If Burger King suddenly lowered its prices, a Wendy’s die-hard might be persuaded to drop them to follow the lower price tags.

这些措施可以提升品牌忠诚度,并抢夺其他快餐连锁的顾客。如果汉堡王突然降价,Wendy's的顽固派可能也会同意跟随降价。

“All industries are interested in this,” says Patricia Smith in relation to tweaking price thresholds. “They want to know: ‘Should I raise my price and see if I can get away with that? Or should I lower my prices and earn less [but maybe sell more]?’”

"所有行业对此都很感兴趣。"帕特里夏·史密斯提到调整价格阈值时说。"他们想知道:'我是否应该涨价,看看我能否侥幸成功?或者我是否应该降价,薄利多销?'"

It’s an economic principle called elasticity of demand. “A firm can increase its total revenue by lowering price if demand for the product is elastic – sensitive to price. For example, if the firm lowers price 5% and quantity sold rises by 10%, then demand is elastic and total revenue will rise.”

在经济学中,这被称作需求弹性。"如果某种产品的需求存在弹性,顾客对价格敏感,企业就可以通过降价来增加总收入。例如,如果该公司将价格下调5%,而销量增加10%,那么需求就存在弹性,总收入就会增加。"

Smith points out that the fast food industry is a good place to watch this theory in action, as these kind of price wars often play out in markets that are oligopolies, where there are just a few big firms all vying to be top dog.

史密斯指出,快餐行业是实地观察这种理论的好地方,因为这种价格战往往发生在寡头垄断市场,其中只有几家大公司争相成为行业领袖。

In the US, she says that around 40% of the field is occupied by the top handful of producers, “so it’s not surprising we’d see [pricing wars] in this type of market,” she says. In America, that top 40% already represents nearly $80 billion in revenue.

她表示,美国的这一领域大约有40%被少数顶尖企业控制,"所以这种市场发生价格战就不出乎意料。"在美国,这40%已经代表了800亿美元的收入。由于全球快餐行业有望在2022年突破7000亿美元的规模,所以价格战和新的经济战略产生的结果将非常值得的关注。

2018: Year of the value meal?

2018:超值套餐之年?

Right now, these big chains’ new value meals are US-only. But the gradual chipping away of costs for quick food isn’t a trend in North America alone.

现在,这些大型连锁快餐仅在美国推出了新的超值套餐。但快餐的价格逐渐下降并非北美的独有趋势。

While £1 meals aren’t commonplace in the UK, value meals are a growing trend that even higher-end supermarkets are interested in, such as, Marks and Spencer’s ‘Dine in for two for £10’ offer. Supermarket, Tesco, also offers £4 lunch specials that include a sandwich, drink and packet of crisps. While cheap items priced from £1.99 or £2.99 have helped drive sales at sandwich shops like Greggs, the bakery chain, the largest in the UK, which will open over 100 new locations in the next five years.

虽然1英镑的产品在英国并不常见,但超值套餐的确已经渐成趋势,甚至连高端超市也加入进来,例如玛莎百货的"10英镑双人餐"。乐购也提供了4英镑的超值午餐,包含一个三明治、一杯饮料和一包薯片。1.99或2.99英镑的低价产品也帮助Greggs这样的三明治店推升了销量,这家英国最大烘焙连锁将在未来五年内开设100多家新店。

But Caraher suspects that the pricing strategies in the US won’t necessarily translate to other national markets. McDonald’s in Europe, for instance, is taking a different tack, responding to demand for produce from sustainable sources. In the UK, the chain is using only British and Irish beef, recycling its old cooking oil and egg shells into biodiesel and making all of its coffee “ethically sourced” by 2020.

但加拉赫怀疑,美国的定价策略未必能应用到其他市场。例如,麦当劳在欧洲就采取了不同的策略,以满足人们对可持续食品来源的需求。在英国,该公司只使用英国和爱尔兰的牛肉,将用过的食用油和鸡蛋壳回收成生物柴油,并在2020年之前实现所有咖啡的"道德采购"。

Slashing prices would mean sacrificing that reputation, Caraher says, which won’t float with conscientious millennial customers.

加拉赫表示,大幅降价将意味着牺牲这种声誉,无法与认真自觉的千禧一代形成共鸣。

“In order to lower their prices, they would have to break a lot of their marketing initiatives that they’ve implemented here in Europe,” he says. “They’ve positioned themselves in a different level of the market.”

"为了降低价格,他们必须打破在欧洲实施的许多营销计划。"他说,"他们已经采取了不同的市场定位。"

Fast food’s future

快餐的未来

In comments to BBC Capital, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Taco Bell didn’t expand on what motivated them to introduce new value meal menus now beyond saying it was a play to customer needs.

在回应BBC Capital时,麦当劳、Wendy's和塔可钟都没有进一步说明是什么促使他们推出超值菜单,只是表示这是为了迎合顾客需求。

“We heard from customers that they have about $5 to spend on lunch, which makes the 4 for $4 deal so attractive,” a spokesperson for Wendy’s says.

"我们从顾客那里得知,他们午餐的花费大约是5美元,所以4美元可以吃4份的优惠变得非常诱人。"Wendy's发言人说。

“My guess is that they’re trying to hang on to their own [existing] customers,” Smith from the University of Michigan says – to keep hold of people already eating fast food, rather than courting younger people who want pasture-fed pork and organic vegetables.

"我猜他们试图留住(现有的)顾客。" 密歇根大学的史密斯说——为的是留住那些原本就吃快餐的人,而不是讨好那些想吃草饲猪肉和有机蔬菜的年轻人。

It’s still unclear what will happen to the industry if fast food becomes cheaper and cheaper.

现在还无法判断,如果快餐变得越来越便宜,这个行业究竟会发生什么。

Public health experts also raise concerns. Nestle says that for people who traditionally eat at fast food outlets, more value meals might mean they eat larger amounts and more often. That’d be a problem for the US, already one of the most obese nations in the world.

公共卫生专家也提出了担忧。奈斯德表示,对于那些原本就吃快餐的人来说,更超值的餐品可能导致他们吃得更多、更频繁。这对美国来说是个问题,那里已经是世界上肥胖最严重的国家之一。

But, who knows? If Gen Z and Millennials continue to show preference for greener foods, and if restaurants beyond burger chains follow McDonald’s lead, perhaps the pricing wars’ ripple effect will spread further.

可谁知道呢?如果Z世代和千禧一代继续表现出对绿色食品的偏爱,如果汉堡连锁店之外的其他餐厅也追随麦当劳的步伐,那么价格战的连锁反应将会波及整个食品行业。

Nestle points to the ongoing diversification of fast food that’s gone well beyond deep-fried chicken and fizzy drinks. She names US chains Sweetgreen and Fresh, which sell all things leafy, and Smith also mentions the rise of health food supermarket, Whole Foods.

奈斯德指出,随着快餐食品的持续多样化,它已经远远超出了炸鸡和碳酸饮料的范畴。她提到了Sweetgreen和Fresh两家专门出售绿叶食品的美国快餐连锁,她还提到了健康食品超市全食超市(Whole Foods)的兴起。

“From where I sit, fast food is changing [into] something much healthier,” Nestle says.

"从我的角度看,快餐正变的越来越健康,"奈斯德说。