What's so bad about fried chicken shops in Seoul and London?

Policy-makers in London and South Korea want to crack down on fried chicken shops, but for two very different reasons

Earlier this week, South Korean officials ordered that restaurant franchises are no longer allowed to open two restaurants within 800 metres of each other. Fried chicken restaurants are a particular target, because around 7,400 are opened in the country every year.

The sharp rise in the number of fried chicken shops has been worrying officials in London too. There are 8,000 fast food outlets in the capital, or one for every 1,000 people, and fried chicken shops are especially popular. In the London Borough of Newham, for instance, there are over 70 chicken shops. Our chicken shop mania has even inspired an unimaginatively named (but genuinely inspired) documentary, The Fried Chicken Shop.

In November 2012 last year the Mayor of London Boris Johnson called on local authorities to help curb Londoners’ appetite for fast food, and around the country some local authorities are trying to clamp down on fast food shops serving school children on their lunch breaks.

Boris Johnson's primary concern is Londoners’ expanding waist lines and poor health, while in South Korea the bigger problem is economic. Every year in South Korea around 5,000 chicken shops go out of business, which policy-makers fear is contributing to the country’s rising household debt. In contrast, Londoners’ appetite for fried chicken is seemingly (and dangerously) limitless – you regularly see two fried chicken shops within metres of one another, and both seem to doing a roaring trade. Our love for fatty foods means the UK's fast food industry contributes around £4bn a year to the national economy. South Korean fried chicken-eaters just can't keep up with UK appetites, which is good for national health, but bad for the economy.

As The Economist points out this week, whether fried or roasted, chicken consumption can tell us something about the state of the global economy. Around the world, chicken consumption is growing 2.5 per cent a year and is predicted to overtake pork as the most popular meat. This is because as emerging economies become wealthier, more families are able to afford meat, and, as the cheapest meat, chicken is the most popular choice.

In developing countries increased chicken consumption is consequently a positive economic indicator, but in the UK this is less obviously the case. Taste and ability to soak up alcohol aside, the relative cheapness of chicken helps explains the rising popularity of fried chicken shops in the UK at a time when household budgets are shrinking.

 

A fried chicken outlet near Lewisham high street. Photo:Getty

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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