Fast food development: Turkey

We’re approaching the end of our scheduled travels and therefore our project to chart the fast food development of each and every country to visit. But there are still some data points to gather, and Turkey is an interesting example.

Home-grown Turkish fast food is outstanding. Kebabs are the core of a Turkish cuisine that has been exported around the world, and peddled generously to the late night reveller and hungover. A simple durum, or wrap, might set you back about $3NZD here. Maybe slightly more if you opt for an offal filling, but why on earth would you?

Traditional snacks like this are so widely available; they seem to crowding out of Western fast food brands. There haven’t been as many global franchises as we might have expected, certainly not provincial capital level cities. Interestingly, though not hugely germane to our fundamental question, BK would outnumber McDs at least two to one. There’s virtually no KFC, and Italian style pizza very much plays second fiddle to Turkey’s own pide.

When travel in Turkey is mostly about half the cost of in New Zealand, a Burger King combo will hover around the three quarters mark. In another single of its status as a prestige product, there’s no cheap menu with single items (like a $2 cheeseburger) and advertising doesn’t mention price. One Burger King sat between an Armani boutique and a fancy marina in Cesme, and didn’t seem wholly out of place.

All this adds up to stage three: western fast food is an aspirational product, and it is available in big towns, but not small ones. There’s a case to be made it is actually stage two because availability is genuinely limited. But pricing is very much accessible to the middle class, at least as a treat. My sense, though, is that Turkey might stay stage three longer than most as its wealth increases. The local alternatives are simply too cheap, and too delicious.

Big belly development

Our project compares fast food development across countries, but not times. Fiona’s uncle gave us some insight into how things have changed in the twenty years he has been living in and around Turkey. When he arrived there were virtually no western fast food brands. His observation is that their introduction has increased the girth of the Turkish population significantly. It’s a hypothesis, but we can offer some supporting observations.

Our rough observation would be that Turks in villages, and out East where we started our journey, tend to be slimmer than those in the bigger cities, and, as in the western world, the richer someone appears the slimmer they are likely to be too. Maybe it is confirmation bias, but it seems to match our intuitions that western fast food is basically the preserve of the urban middle classes.

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