McDonald's is being rebranded in China as it  tries to increase market share. Photo: AFP / Fred Dufour
McDonald's is being rebranded in China as it tries to increase market share. Photo: AFP / Fred Dufour

They are big and they have an appetite for tasty, Chinese morsels. The Carlyle Group is one of the most successful investment companies in the world with a multinational portfolio which stretches from New York to Nanjing.

Yet the Wall Street leviathan’s latest acquisition might come as a surprise to investors.

In a high-profile US$2 billion deal, Carlyle is now the proud owner of McDonald’s China operation after putting together a partnership with the state-owned CITIC Group, formerly known as the China International Trust Investment Corporation.

The first item of business for this ‘new business’ was a change in the Big Mac menu to bring back old customers that now prefer Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC is the dominant player in the fast food sector in China for global franchise brands.

“It turns out that Chinese people like chicken more than burgers,” David Rubenstein, Carlyle’s co-founder and co-executive chairman, was quoted as saying. “I think we will spend more time on chicken-related offerings.”

China’s love affair with all things fowl is a universal ‘given’. It is just surprising that the brains trust at the House of Ronald McDonald did not see that one earlier. But then, they might want to experiment with duck products? Oh, sorry, KFC has already rolled them out as well.

What it has not done, of course, is change its iconic name. In October, McDonald’s new owners announced the company would be registered under Golden Arches (China) Co Ltd.

“It will still be clearly ‘McDonald’s’ when diners come to our stores,” the fast-food chain said on its official China microblog. “The change is only at business license level,” added Regina Hui, a company spokeswoman.

There are also no plans to dump Ronald McDonald … yet. Still, the Carlyle Group appears to have an intrinsic feel for the country after being active there for the past 20 years.

“We are by far the largest global PE investor in the country, with an investment of over US$7.5 billion in more than 90 transactions,” David M. Marchick, the group’s managing director and global head of external affairs, told state-owned news agency Xinhua last week.

“We are raising our next Asia fund, which will be our largest (around $6.5 billion). That will allow us to increase our investment pace even more in China,” he said.

It seems the boys at Carlyle are “Lovin’ It” in the world’s second-largest economy. To be more accurate, Big Mac’s slogan in China is wo jiu xihuan, or “I Just Like It”. That will do, I suppose.