KFC is grabbing the sandwich category with both hands by launching its world-renowned Zinger spicy chicken sandwich in the United States. The sandwich—freshly breaded and fried in-store, a rarity among KFC’s burger-centric competitors—already has a following in more than 120 countries. In fact, in many places outside of the US, “Zinger” has become the colloquial term for any chicken sandwich.
The Zinger rollout—which included bringing a food truck this week to New York’s Union Square, at top—is a part of KFC’s continued menu innovations under its process of “Re-Colonelization”, which includes putting a revolving cast of actors playing Colonel Harland Sanders at the heart of its (now ubiquitous) ads, recommitting to its original brand standards for chicken freshness, and introducing new items and flavors that fit customers’ changing tastes.
We had the chance to speak with Kevin Hochman, KFC’s U.S. President and Chief Concept Officer, about the brand’s most recent launches, the commitment to Re-Colonelization, and whether we’ll be seeing buckets of chicken delivered via drone anytime soon.
brandchannel: How are you positioning the Zinger within your U.S. menu, and how will you be marketing its availability?
Kevin Hochman (right): The Zinger is already a bestseller in over 120 countries, so we’re really confident in it as a product. The majority of other fast food chicken sandwiches are breaded, cooked, and frozen in a factory, then heated up in stores. The Zinger is done fresh. It’s breaded and made in-store every day with our blend of cayenne and other spices. We know a freshly-breaded and cooked sandwich is just going to be crunchier, juicier and taste better.
On the menu, we’re putting it as part of the $5 Fill Up deal. We’re hoping this is going to get a lot of people to try it, as it’s a great value compared to what else is out there. It’s hard to explain how much better this sandwich is unless you try it.
bc: What kinds of product innovation, in terms of the menu, are KFC customers looking for?
Hochman: Trained cooks are key. We’ve invested a lot of hours into training our chefs to cook our food the hard way, like the Colonel would. With their help, we’re able to approach innovation in three ways.
The first is value. A homecooked meal freshly prepared by cooks is something everyone should have access to at an affordable price, and that’s what we’re always finding new ways to offer.
The second is flavor innovation. Our Nashville Hot Chicken and Georgia Gold have been very successful, and I think that’s because people are excited to get regional tastes you can’t get elsewhere. We’re trying to democratize meals and flavors people can afford. For example, if you’re not in Tennessee, the only place you might be able to find Nashville Hot Chicken is in a sit-down Southern restaurant. Now, anyone around the country can try it.
The third is sandwiches. We’ve been known for our shareable buckets, but not so much for sandwiches. However, 40 percent of all fried chicken served at fast food restaurants are in sandwich form. Now we’re going to let you experience our fried chicken in a more portable format, and win back some of that share from burger companies by continuing to do what we do best.
bc: You just announced you’re removing antibiotics from your chicken supply chain in order to respond to customers and deliver more modern and relevant food choices. What else do customers want in terms of better-for-you features?
Hochman: People want to know where their food comes from, and from our perspective, this is a fantastic story for our brand. We work with over 200 farms across the U.S., many of them family-owned, to prepare our chicken. It’s delivered fresh to over 4,200 outlets, with cooks who prepare it for you that day. People want real food prepared properly, and that’s what we offer.
Removing human antibiotics from our chicken has knock-on benefits as well. For our bone-in chicken, we normally have to raise 3-4 chickens for every one that’s large enough for us to use. Those other chickens are still antibiotics-free, and they’re also entering the food chain. And this effort to end treating our chickens with antibiotics comes at no increase in cost to the consumer. So in our way, we’re really trying to democratize antibiotic-free chicken as well, and make it something everyone can have access to.
bc: You were responsible for the brand’s successful “Re-Colonelization” effort; what lessons did you learn about how to revive an iconic founder as part of a brand’s current DNA, while connecting with younger consumers in a new way?
Hochman: Lots of brands have decades of greatness, but many of them have woken up in 2015 to find that they’ve lost relevance. Some try to be relevant when they’re not, and some try to find what made their brand resonate in the first place. I like to think we’ve been able to do the latter.
Going back to our brands’ roots is paying dividends. A lot of it has been about doing things the way we did when we were at our best. At that time, the Colonel was at the center of everything, and we were making our chicken fresh every day. Now that we’re back there, we’re seeing the same sort of success. Brand consideration is up 45% with the Colonel campaign, and we’ll continue to look for new ways to deliver home-cooked quality food at an affordable price.
bc: What should customers look forward to from the KFC brand along with rollout of the Zinger?
Hochman: On Friday, we’re about to debut a new Colonel, and I wish I could tell you more, because it’s going to be something very different from what you’re used to. There’s also an incredible stunt coming up, which again I have to keep under wraps, but look out for it on Friday.
Longer-term, we’re going to continue to make our menu more relevant to Millennial and younger consumers. Now only 45% customers regularly eat at the dinner table, so we’re going to continue to find the best ways to cater to customers who are looking for fresh food on the go, and those that are eating at home—all while upholding the brand standards of the Colonel.
Check back Friday to find out which actor is taking over as Colonel Sanders to help launch the Zinger sandwich in the U.S. — here’s a hint below:
You must have a lot of questions about this. Questions like, “who is this mysterious space Colonel?” and “isn’t he hot in that suit?” pic.twitter.com/LHdvcZoqTZ
— KFC (@kfc) April 19, 2017
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