Industry News | April 19, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

KFC's Latest Plan to Beat its Chicken Competition

KFC expects the Zinger to be a major hit, like it is overseas. KFC
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Very few quick-service chains are sitting idle these days. You can surely add KFC to that mix. The more than 4,000-unit chicken chain is ditching frozen and breaded sandwich filets in favor of housemade ones. The former product was breaded offsite and frozen before being shipped to stores.

"Frankly, it is not the kind of fried chicken sandwich we should be serving as the fried chicken experts," Kevin Hochman, president of KFC in the United States, told The Associated Press.

Chicken competitors Popeyes and Chick-fil-A bread their filets in-store. However, KFC told the AP that the move wasn’t in relation to the chicken chains in limited service, but rather the burger restaurants that freeze and ship their chicken. The move, in other words, is one KFC believes true chicken chains need to make.

KFC’s chicken has been evolving lately. On April 7, the chain revealed it was committing to chicken without antibiotics by the end of 2018. The company said that all chicken purchased by KFC in the U.S. will be raised without antibiotics important to human medicine, including chicken tenders and popcorn chicken. The brand also said it was “especially proud to be the first major chicken chain to extend this commitment to our bone-in chicken, which includes our signature Original Recipe, Extra Crispy, and Kentucky Grilled Chicken, as well as our wings.”

This process will involve more than 2,000 farms across the country—many of them family owned.

On Monday, KFC announced that its Zinger spicy chicken sandwich was headed to the U.S. The 100 percent chicken breast filet, double hand-breaded and fried, is enormously popular overseas. It began in Trinidad and Tobago in 1984, and, according to KFC, is so recognizable that “Zinger” is actually synonymous with a friend chicken sandwich in some countries. More Zingers are sold in the U.K., India, and Australia than anywhere else. Australia alone sells more than 22 million Zingers each year.

KFC has been targeting younger customers through advertising and its menu, including those commercials with celebrities posing as Colonel Sanders. 

KFC introduced Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Chicken in February as well.

Hochman, KFC’s former chief marketing officer, was named the new president of U.S. operations on March 21 when Jason Marker left for the CEO role at CKE Restaurants. KFC, part of YUM! Brands, has reported 10 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth.

YUM! Called 2017 a “landmark year.” KFC opened 1,086 new international restaurants in 81 countries in 2016 and saw a 7 percent boost of system sales.

This all comes as McDonald’s continues to push its menu forward, including swapping frozen for fresh beef in its Quarter Pounder burgers by mid-2018. And fast casual chains like Chipotle, Fazoli’s, and Panera Bread roll out clean-label initiatives. Pizza chains such as Papa John’s, which unveiled a gluten-free option Wednesday, are also targeting health-conscious customers.