Myanmar KFC fans queue for hours for first taste of US fast food

People wait outside of KFC's first branch restaurant in Yangon on June 30, 2015

Fried chicken aficionados queued for hours at Myanmar's first KFC restaurant Tuesday, as the US fast food chain became the latest big foreign brand to open an outlet in the long-cloistered nation.

KFC is the first major US restaurant chain to open in the country as reforms and the removal of most sanctions since the end of outright junta rule tempt investors to a market of millions of prospective consumers.

Soon after the doors opened a lunchtime crush developed at the new branch in the commercial hub of Yangon.

The firm and its local partner -- Yoma Strategic -- hope it will be the first of many restaurants across the Southeast Asian nation.  

Businessman Kyaw Moe queued for three hours to buy chicken for eight family members, including school-age nieces and nephews.

"I want them to taste this. It is my first time. My aunt in Singapore says it is also famous there," the 50-year-old told AFP, brushing off concerns that a taste for foreign fast food could lead to expanding waistlines.

"It is internationally famous, so I think it must be healthy," he said.

Western brands were a rare sight in Myanmar under military rule, which kept the country isolated from the outside world for nearly half a century.

Myanmar's economy was left in tatters after years of mismanagement under the junta, but reforms under a quasi-civilian government have raised expectations of an economic surge in the resource-rich nation of 51 million potential consumers.

US firms including drinks makers Coca Cola and Pepsi and carmakers Chevrolet and Ford have already established a sales presence in the country.

 -- The Colonel calls -- 

While "The Colonel" might have beaten other major US restaurant chains into the frontier Asian market, it is not the first foreign fast food firm to open in Myanmar. 

South Korea's Lotteria burger restaurant opened its first branch in 2013 and now has seven outlets in the country.

KFC is operating in partnership with a Myanmar franchise holder. 

Its 240-seat Yangon branch will offer "hearty and generous portions" and "accessible prices", according to a statement released to the press.

Two pieces of fried chicken and fries go for 3,500 kyats ($3.1) -- a little less than the figure the government has proposed for impoverished nation's first minimum wage. 

"It has been our dream for a long time to have a KFC in Yangon, one of the great cities of the world," said KFC head Micky Pant, adding that the country is "poised for strong economic growth in the coming years". 

KFC, which has more than 19,400 restaurants in 120 countries across the world, said 80 percent of its development is in emerging markets. 

Excited young customers took selfies with mobile phones -- themselves a rare luxury only a few years ago -- at the restaurant on Tuesday.

Htet Ei, an 18-year-old student queuing with three friends, said she had checked on the restaurant every day since she found out it would open.

"Now young people here can eat like young people in other countries," she told AFP. "I'll always come here."

The arrival of a key US food brand is likely to draw further attention to a sizzling economy that hit 7.7 percent growth in 2014.

But other companies have been confounded by the challenges of a nation where firms must often import key equipment, the workforce is poorly skilled and the rule of law remains threadbare.

Some analysts say major firms are also waiting for the outcome of pivotal elections later this year before deciding whether to take a long-term punt on the country.