Burger giant defeats rival for Japanese fast-food lovers

Burger giant McDonald's has emerged victorious in the battle for Japan's fast-food hearts and minds after rival Wendy's announced its decision to withdraw from the market.

Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers has been operating in Japan for 29 years, but has cancelled its contract with its franchise here, Zensho Co. Ltd., and the 71 outlets across the country will close by the end of December.

The departure of Wendy's - famously named after the daughter of founder Dave Thomas and the third largest burger chain in the United States - leaves lovers of fast food in Japan with little in the way of choice.

With 3,720 restaurants McDonald's already controls an estimated 65 percent of the Japanese market. Domestic firm Mos Burger is in second place with 1,334 outlets, while Freshness Burger and Lotteria share the rest of the market.

Burger King has 16 restaurants in Japan after returning to the market in 2007. It was forced to withdraw from Japan in 2001 after losing a pricing war with McDonald's, which prides itself on its menu prices and reels in young customers with promotions.

It also has items that are unique to the Japanese market, with the Chicken Tatsuta returning to the menu after a five-year hiatus in September.

"Chicken Tatsuta was ranked number 1 by the Oricon Survey for being 'The fast food item that consumers most want to try again'," McDonald's spokesman Junichi Kawaminami told AFP Relaxnews. The burger - which is flavored with a soy sauce-based dressing - proved so popular the first time it went on sale that the campaign ended five days earlier than scheduled because stocks ran out.

McDonald's has grown rapidly since opening its first restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district in 1971, although officials of Wendy's have told local media that they want to follow Burger King's lead and return to Japan in the future.

Based in Dublin, Ohio, the chain announced a merger with Arby's in April 2008 and the withdrawal from Japan is apparently part of the new company - known as Wendy's/Arby's Group - to restructure its business before returning.

Japanese burger-lovers will hope they do so sooner rather than later.

 

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