We recently attended the release of the Foodservice Report from Lee Kum Kee and caught up with Maria Chong, Managing Director of Lee Kum Kee, to discuss what this report will mean for the future of oriental food.

Can you give a brief overview as to what the Lee Kum Kee 2019 foodservice report is about and what the purpose of the report is?

This new comprehensive report looks at Oriental cuisine in the foodservice market, drawing on a wide range of insight, data and industry intelligence. The report shows the overarching trends in foodservice and what consumers are looking for when eating out of home. As a leading Chinese sauce company and given the current pressures facing foodservice in the UK, we felt it was timely to offer a report that demonstrates the opportunities as well as challenges for the sector’s operatives.

What is the current status of Oriental Cuisine in the UK foodservice market?

Oriental food offers many opportunities for operators, especially in terms of helping them to cater for those looking for healthy or special dietary options, like those on gluten-free diets or who are vegans.

Chinese is the third most popular cuisine when eating out after British and Italian with 69% of people eating it. Oriental cuisine has become more diverse in the UK, but although many people are looking to try Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean, Chinese remains hugely popular. Consumers are looking for classics served well but also the opportunity to try something new and exciting, but they need support through suitable menu descriptions and education.

Oriental cuisine remains hugely popular in the UK foodservice market, but it’s not without its challenges. Our report outlines the effect of economic, political and trend-based issues including a shortage of skilled Oriental chefs, evolving digital presence from the likes of Deliveroo, sustainability, business rates, Brexit, changing diets and the perception of Oriental food.

Have you identified any trends in the out-of-home food sector?

There are some notable trends identified in the out-of-home sector; consumers are willing to try new and exciting ingredients, and operators should embrace influences from across the world; sustainability and transparency are vital; provenance is key, and operators should be working alongside suppliers to champion this, safety allergens and maximising social media as a tool for driving footfall and awareness.

But the key trend for the report and a primary driving force behind consumer dining habits is health and wellbeing. This trend isn’t just about special diets such as vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian but the report comments on the general shift in diners looking for fresh and unprocessed dishes – 38% of British consumers are looking for these when dining out. Operators should be showing consumers just how healthy and nutritious Chinese food can be.

How important do you feel authenticity is when serving oriental cuisine?

Maria Chong, Managing Director of Lee Kum Kee
Lee Kum Kee – Vegan dish

Authenticity is important to us as a supplier and it’s something we’ve championed since inventing oyster sauce over 130 years ago. The report found that two in five consumers claim authenticity is extremely important when eating out. Operators must understand how they are being perceived and encompass relevant authenticity within their offer. Obviously, authenticity is different depending on the audience. A customer at a high-end Chinese restaurant will have different requirements than one eating at a pub – so relevant authenticity is key.

What advice would you give to a business that already serves or is considering serving oriental cuisine?

There are 3 main areas to look at; menu development, ingredients and marketing.

Menu development – we’d advise operators to look at their offering – could you use ‘new’ and exciting ingredients? Are you catering for health and wellbeing led diets? Are you explaining your dishes effectively?

Ingredients – make sure you’re getting the best ingredients and addressing authenticity, corporate environmental responsibility, provenance and safety allergens.

Marketing – social media continues to help foodservice businesses to market cost-effectively, and operators should continue to maximise this as a tool. It’s worth looking at menu design too, making sure your descriptions excite and appeal but are sensitive enough not to scare or confused consumers. There’s a regional divide between consumers in London and GB, so it’s important operators pay attention to their specific audience.

Please see below tips in full from the report release

Menu development:

  • Gizzi Erskine's Portobello Mushroom, Beansprout and Spring Onion Crispy Broken Eggs (portrait with product)
    Gizzi Erskine’s Portobello Mushroom, Beansprout and Spring Onion Crispy Broken Eggs – Lee Kum Kee

    Embrace trends from around the world on your menu: Oriental cuisine is extremely popular with 4 in 5 consumers eating it out of home and there are still plenty of ‘new’ and exciting ingredients consumers are willing to try; 46% of consumers have not heard of glass noodles and 26% have not tried Char Siu sauce

  • Special diets are important: 70% of British consumers have either dietary or wellbeing led considerations when eating out, there’s real opportunity for operators to expand their menu options and maximise sales
  • The big health drive: Oriental food fits well with the drive for healthy fresh food as meals are always based around a balance of fresh veg, protein and carbs
  • Education is effective: whilst consumers are keen to explore new flavours and ingredients they need a little explaining or to be given inspiration. Working closely with ingredient suppliers who have a wealth of knowledge will help operators

The best ingredients:

  • Applicable authenticity: with 2 in 5 consumers claiming authenticity is extremely important when eating out, operators must understand how they are being perceived and encompass relevant authenticity within their offer
  • Corporate environmental responsibility: sustainability and transparency are vital, for both businesses and consumers; 54% of consumers claim sustainability of ingredients is important to them whilst 50% of business leaders predict food waste and sustainability will be a key trend moving forwards
  • Provenance: understand the source, historical background of a cuisine and flavours by working more closely with suppliers and trusted brands
  • Safety allergens: stable ingredients and consistence in quality that you can rely on is key, so only work with suppliers that you can trust


  • Harness social media effectively: social media continues to help foodservice businesses to market cost-effectively. Notably, 50% of 18-24, 51% of 25-34 year olds and 48% of 35-44 year olds are using Facebook to find inspiration for eating out.
  • Menu design: use suitable descriptions to excite and appeal, but be sensitive enough not to scare or confuse the consumers. Images are a vital way to encourage consumers to try new dishes. Encompass both new and exciting dishes as well as familiarity to encourage more visits.
  • Know your audience: there is a clear regional divide between consumers in London and GB. London consumers are twice as likely to say sushi, Korean BBQ and pho are their favourite dishes when eating out but be mindful that some cuisines and dishes popular in London may not be as successful elsewhere and vice versa.

What do the results of the report mean for Lee Kum Kee and the future of the oriental foodservice market within the UK as a whole?

Lee Kum Kee food service
Lee Kum Kee food service

The report shows that the foodservice industry is in challenging times, but by being agile and having a clear proposition operators can still thrive. The report shows there are many opportunities as people will always want to eat out and fresh, healthy and delicious food will continue to be in demand.

We want this report to be an effective tool for operators moving forwards. It’s about unlocking the profit-making opportunity that a good Oriental food offer can present and driving business success, not just within traditional Oriental restaurants but across all foodservice sectors.

We want to continue working in partnership with foodservice operators; we have a wealth of knowledge and expertise that can help and support operators.

Visit Lee Kum Kee’s website by clicking here