Two thousand five hundred kilograms of flour. One thousand kilograms of pork. A highly scientific formula balancing ratios of salt, consistency of bun, and thickness versus diameter. Experimentation. Innovation. Finding a way to create a flatbread that could leave its traditional open fire baking process behind in order to comply with city laws demanding electric ovens. This is what it took for Meng Bing to find his product breakthrough and turn himself into an F&B superstar in Beijing, selling one unlikely product: the rou jia mo.
A rou jia mo is basically a sandwich from north-central China that uses chopped, braised pork and green peppers as the filling. This sits between a freshly baked flatbread that has been split open down the middle. It’s a street food. It’s also propelled Meng into the spotlight. His innovative take on the humble sandwich, and unique approach to management, has landed Meng on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, alongside the founder of the Ofo shared bicycle brand and Olympic ping pong champions.
It’s a comeuppance for Meng, whose article “Why I Quit My Job to Sell Rou Jia Mo” went viral on WeChat. In it, he described how he fought to find a job in Beijing as a non-native Beijinger, and how he dreamed about a career going from engineer to CEO — before his girlfriend dumped him because he couldn’t afford an apartment. So Meng, resilient as ever, went back to his hometown and learned the basics of rou jia mo from a local master. He returned to Beijing, armed with a renewed determination and set of skills.
Essentially, he had traded a career at tech giants Tencent and Baidu for a sandwich.
Over the first 100 days of opening his shop, Xi Shao Ye, he had sold 200,000 sandwiches. After six months, he had sold a million. In 2016 he received investment of US$11.5 million, regarded as the single largest investment in an F&B business of his type. By the beginning of 2017, less than three years after opening his first 10-square meter hole-in-the-wall, Meng had sold 10 million sandwiches and claimed an average daily revenue of RMB 6,800 per square meter. This is two to three times higher than what the average fast food giant achieves in China. Clearly, he was on to something.
That something is an engineering mindset coupled with constant iteration. Meng, an engineer by trade, constantly tinkers with the standard ‘algorithm’ for a rou jia mo, aiming for perfection. He is also keen on ongoing standardization and a strict adherence to customer feedback, tying the KPI’s of his store managers directly to responses from customers.
The lesson here for F&B and QSR companies looking for success in China is that product innovation doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. Sometimes all you need to do is tweak an existing code. Meng did not invent the rou jia mo, and he didn’t radically alter the formula, either. He simply figured out a recipe that adhered to traditional ideas about flavor but could be produced with modern technology. This allowed him to standardize and ultimately scale. Today he has more 30 shops across Beijing, with more expansion plans in the works (and, no doubt, one very regretful ex-girlfriend).
Need help understanding the winning formula for your product ideas? How can they be developed or tweaked to create the same type of buzz as Meng’s rou jia mo? Want to understand how far is too far, and how far is just right? The Silk Initiative’s Product Blueprint can answer these questions for you, based on our on-the-ground experience in China and our deep understanding of the country’s F&B market. Contact us today.