London Despatch | International

When KFC couldn’t count on its chickens

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When Colonel Harland Sanders, a Kentucky-based entrepreneur, began selling his now-famous fried chicken during the Great Depression, eventually setting up his franchise chain in 1952, it is unlikely that he would have foreseen the brand offering up a new twist on the chicken-crossing-the road riddle.

“The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants,” quipped KFC U.K. & Ireland on Twitter last week, as the company found itself in the midst of its biggest PR disasters to date. Last week, the fast food chain was forced to temporarily close many of its U.K. outlets following a chicken shortage.

While outside Britain, fish and chips may be the takeaway food most associated with the country, chicken has permeated the national consciousness. There’s ‘Fried’, a BBC sitcom on the lives of disgruntled employees at a London chicken shop, while several years ago, Channel 4 ran a successful fly-on-the-wall television documentary series on the lives of workers and customers at a chicken shop in south London.

A visitor to most suburban parts of London — or areas beyond the capital — is likely to have encountered at least one fast food chicken shop. In Western Europe, Britain accounted for well over half the chicken fast food market last year ($3 billion out of $5.16 billion), according to data from market research provider, Euromonitor. In a largely fragmented market, KFC is one of the big players, with its own shops as well as franchise stores across the U.K.

Extreme reaction

Still, the reaction to the KFC closures was more extreme than anyone could have expected. One London MP said he hd been contacted by disappointed customers, while a couple of police forces, in London and beyond, revealed that people had been in touch with them over the situation. “For those who contacted the police about KFC being out of chicken… please stop,” tweeted one policeperson in greater Manchester. Over the last weekend, KFC took out full page adverts in British dailies to apologise for the situation.

Even 10 days on, KFC is still trying to get on the top of the situation, with an estimated 5% of shops still impacted.

Exactly what transpired remains to be seen: KFC, which appeared to have learnt the lessons of a 2013 crisis when it was criticised over the speed of its response to food safety concerns in China, handled this situation with a swift multimedia, and often tongue-in-cheek media campaign (“You had one Job KFC… how did you run out of chicken?” ran one line) and pointed to logistical issues it had had after switching to a delivery contract with DHL.

When the new partnership between KFC, DHL and another food logistics specialist QSL was announced last year, the companies boasted that the change would “revolutionise” and “rewrite the rule book” in terms of the way Britain’s food service supply chain operated. However, It emerged that GMB, one of Britain’s major general unions, had warned KFC at that time that it would be wrong to switch from their existing relationship with a specialised distributor for whom the lost contract led to over 250 job cuts.

Supply chain experts up and down the country offered different explanations as to what may have transpired and where the blame lay. Just like most fresh food supply chains, KFC’s case is particularly complex; it is reliant on British chicken as well as some from Europe and Brazil and Thailand. However, one thing was clear — Britain’s appetite for fried chicken is unlikely to end any time soon.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 3:57:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/when-kfc-couldnt-count-on-its-chickens/article22919906.ece

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