The story behind KFC’s new Nashville Hot Chicken begins even further back than Colonel Sanders’ time. And as with many great fables, it’s a story of love and revenge. According to legend, a woman living in Nashville, Tennessee, thought her husband was cheating on her, so she cooked his chicken dinner with so many spices that she was sure it would burn his mouth and make him cry.
Instead, she accidentally created a delicious recipe that has been reinterpreted for generations in Nashville. At least that’s the backstory KFC corporate chef Bob Das heard when he and his team visited the Music City on a “food safari,” to sample different interpretations of the hyper-regional dish.
“When you talk to people who’ve experienced Nashville Hot in its authentic location, Nashville, Tennessee, ... they talk about it as if it’s a religion,” says KFC CMO Kevin Hochman. “The spicier, the better, at least for some people, and then you'll see other people say, 'I couldn't handle the spicy; only amateurs go for the spiciest.' Everybody's got a great story if they're Nashville Hot eats about what it means to them.”
Less than a year after the research trip, KFC introduced its limited-time Nashville Hot Chicken nationwide. It also took a food truck tour of lesser-known Nasvhilles to promote the new item.
“It’s got pretty high awareness in foodie circles, and it has probably high awareness around the area of Nashville and the South … but for the most part, there's not a ton of broad-scale awareness. One of the things we wanted to do before we actually launched the product was: How do we create buzz and excitement?” Hochman says. The brand’s PR partners Emanate came up with the idea to take a food truck to eight small towns named Nashville that didn't have KFC stores and let them sample the new item. “The idea of KFC in a food truck? You don’t see that.”
Over the course of two weeks beginning January 7, a customized food truck traveled from Nashville Village, Ohio, to Nashville Town, North Carolina, with stops in between as far north as Minnesota and as far west as Kansas.
In the first stop, Nashville Village, Ohio, with a population of just over 200, 40 percent of the residents lined up for the food truck visit. All in all, Hochman says the food truck promotion help generate a quarter of a billion impressions via social media ahead of the Nashville Hot Chicken’s launch, which launched while the tour will still in progress, on January 18.
The idea of accessibility for food is something that is very much in vogue, Hochman says. There is a growing expectation among customers that quality and unique foods are no longer restricted to the wealthiest realms. KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken is easily accessible for most Americans and can sell at a price point they can afford, he adds.
And so far, the feedback is matching the buzz.
“This is something really special and exceptional that [quick service] has never done before. If you go online and pick up any of the food reviews and the vast majority—over 90 percent—are very, very positive,” Hochman says. “I don’t know if we would've gotten that kind of social media currency and level of interest in reviewing this product without a program like this.”
By Nicole Duncan