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TOP 10 Untold Truths about KFC

Funny thing about untold truths these days; nothing is really quite untold any more. The “Internet of Things” has made that abundantly apparent. You’d have to be M.I.A. or living where the internet is either restricted or banned altogether not be able to find your heart’s queries.  There’s so much information out there that you could’ve written this for me. To be fair though, someone out there is paying me to write this, so I might as well do the work! Now, be forewarned, when it comes to Kentucky Fried Chicken (err, “KFC”), one or two of these untold truths should have, in retrospect, remained untold.

10. KFC is an acronym for nothing

You’d think that “KFC” stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken, right? Well you’d be wrong.  A savvy marketing division decided to shorten it for 2 basic, primordial business reasons: to increase revenue and lower expenses. It may seem like a stupid detail but feeling that the word “fried” in the company name was deterring health conscious people right as everyone was hopping on the health-conscious bandwagon, they decided it had to go. Moreover, in 1990 the state of Kentucky trademarked its name. Yeah, not an accident. This in essence now meant that Kentucky Fried Chicken would need to pay a licensing fee every time they used the name “Kentucky” in any company branding. With about 5,000 restaurants in operation by then and with plans to open thousands more across the globe, that was going to be a few boat loads of money the company was not willing to pay. They had also already figured that in this era of short-cuts we were already calling them “KFC” anyways, so why not just make it official? Today, the name “Kentucky Fried Chicken” has been completely phased out of all company branding.

9. Chicken with a cause!

There’s an abundance of easily accessible scientific data that directly links fried foods and obesity to certain cancers.  A 2003 study released by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that obesity was also the culprit directly linked to breast cancer, especially in postmenopausal women.  So it would seem odd that a company whose near entire menu is deep fried would champion any cause for cancer awareness. Well, by April 2010 KFC’s corporate strategy, having aligned itself with a newly health conscious marketing modus operandi, publicly announced an initiative called “Buckets for the Cure” whose mission it was to “raise the largest single donation in history” towards the Komen Organization, a foundation whose aim it is to end breast cancer.  From April to the end of May 2010 the campaign would donate 50 cents from every newly branded pink fried chicken bucket sold towards the cause. The family-sized buckets had cancer survivors and victims’ names printed on them. Moreover, to promote the partnership– make no mistake, this was a mutually beneficial partnership for both KFC and Komen— the KFC website was made bright pink for the duration of the initiative and contained inspirational survivor stories and cancer facts and information.   Although the campaign itself did more good than harm, many critics accused both companies of a “pinkwashing” campaign; a blatant act of self-serving commercialism claiming cancer awareness, but actually promoting the very things which have been proven to increase the chances of getting cancer. This would be like if Phillip Morris teamed up with the Lung Cancer Foundation.  Barbara Brenner the executive director of Breast Cancer Action said, “This [donation] will keep them in business for years. They talk about a cure, but this this partnership will create more breast cancer. And Komen knows this.”   Whatever perspective you choose to side with, the end result is that the initiative did raise $4.2 million dollars towards a cure for breast cancer and was indeed the largest lump-sum donation by any entity in Komen’s history

8. Japanese Christmas

Turkeys in Japan are generally in a chipper mood come Christmas time. That’s because they worry much less about being gobble-gobble-gobbled up in the land of the rising sun.  That’s right, instead the turkeys are giggle-giggle-giggling at their good fortunes as their KFC cousins are the traditional Christmas dinner of choice for millions of Japanese families.  Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in the country came up with an idea for a Christmas promotion called “Party in a Bucket” for his restaurant in 1970.  It did so well that in 1974 headquarters decided to go national with it. Some clever marketing twists later, a new slogan, which literally translates to “Kentucky for Christmas”, and a new tradition was born.  The phrase even sounds catchy in English!  Harvard-educated Okawara, later climbed the corporate ladder and served as president and CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan from 1984 to 2002.  It is largely due to him that today in Japan 20% of KFC’s annual sales come in December. In fact that finger lickin’ good chicken is so popular that you need to pre-order it weeks in advance or risk waiting in hours-long lineups to maybe be told there was none left. During that month alone it is estimated that 3.6 million families treat themselves to KFC and many franchises boast daily sales that are tenfold their normal take. That’s pretty impressive considering only about 1% of Japan’s population is Christian and Christmas is not even a recognized holiday there. 

7. The Secret Recipe is not so secret anymore

I always assumed the secret recipe was just: add a crap-load of salt.  Since no one will absolutely, unequivocally, undisputedly confirm if the leaked recipe is truly the secret, I’m sticking to my guns on this one.  But if you’re a stickler for facts then read on. In August of 2016 Joe Ledington, Sanders’ nephew, claimed he found a scrapbook belonging to his late aunt Claudia (the colonel’s second wife; more on her later).  Jotted on its yellowed pages were what appeared to be the secret 11 herbs and spices which made up one of the most heavily guarded secrets in the culinary industry—the original Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe.  When the Chicago Tribune got hold of it, they decided to go all out and put it to the test. Actually, several experiments were conducted as it would seem that to nail the recipe, every little detail from batter mixture, flour content, cooking times and oil temperature all affected the overall flavor of the chicken—and none of these variables were anywhere to be found on the withered pages of the scrapbook.  It became a major event as their in-house recipe tester Lisa Schumacher made several batches in the Tribune test kitchen. They invited a handful of food critics and Food & Dining editors and reporters to compare the batches to the original. After several failed attempts, a final batch was dipped in a buttermilk batter and coated only once, cooked at 350°F. Many in the room agreed this batch was in fact better than the Colonel’s.  A reporter in the room noticed a container of the MSG food enhancer, Accent. He decided to sprinkle some directly on the fried chicken and low and behold, all the tasters agreed that did the trick. The final batch was indistinguishable from the Original Recipe.  Only one problem though, Accent was not part of the secret blend and a spokesperson for KFC confirmed this.  To try the recipe yourself click here

6. Reba McEntire is the first female Colonel Sanders

Marketing ploy or a simple salute to girl power? A bit of both? Here’s the thing, Fast food chains are constantly adapting to the market. They have teams of researchers tab up key analytics to see who is eating their food, and more importantly who’s not.  So when the “numbers guys” hand over data to a fast-food chain’s marketing division which show the numbers are dropping because people are eating healthier, the company will do things like add salads, or grilled chicken to their menu. If the data shows that younger consumers are eating elsewhere because competitors offer Wi-Fi, well, guess what? Wi-Fi it is!  Point being, marketing campaigns aim to tap those weaker market segments, and although I am not holding KFC’s marketing analytics I can tell you that they undoubtedly had some of the information I found. Studies such as the one conducted by GrubHub showed that men tend to eat more of the unhealthier food choices while women tended to lean towards healthier ones.  Here’s the kicker though; an in depth examination of pick-up and delivery orders from GrubHub’s network of more than 30,000 restaurants in over 700 U.S. cities revealed that women are 30% more likely to order food from work than men. Moreover women spend on average 3% more than men on those orders. That data must have driven the suits at KFC a tad nuts.  They added healthier food yet women still weren’t flocking over! Enter Reba McEntire.  Her role, appearing in several commercials as the Colonel himself and becoming the spokesperson for the brand was hailed to be one of the best things KFC has done since– well since, fried chicken.  One of America’s most beloved country singing celebrities and with a huge female following, she was the perfect fit.  She jumped at the chance and the ensuing commercials are brilliant, poke fun at the brand, at the Colonel and even at her. Between this ad and their new healthier menu options, the brand finally succeeded in getting the attention of its underdeveloped female market-segment. Now whether this attention will convert itself into dollars remains to be seen

5. As brand ambassador Colonel Sanders hated his chicken

Harland Sanders sold his chain in 1964 for $2 million (nearly $16 million today) to a group of investors led by John Y. Brown, Jr. and Jack C. Massey. He retained control of his Canadian operations and later even moved to Mississauga Ontario to oversee the Canadian division.  While in the US however, he became a salaried brand ambassador for the franchise giant.  One problem though; as an ambassador you need to be behind the product and that’s very hard to do when you’re quoted saying “[this] the worst fried chicken I’ve ever seen.”   He was also not so fond of the group’s gravy, calling it “nothing more than wallpaper paste.”   Sanders felt the quality had decreased significantly and even accused the new ownership of using inferior quality ingredients

4. Colonel Sanders cheated on his first wife

Remember Claudia Sanders? Sometimes it takes a few tries at love to get things right. She did become the colonel’s wife, but not before being his mistress for several years prior to that.  Claudia Sanders (née Price) met Sanders in the 1930’s where she worked for him as a waitress in his first restaurant. She was also hired to help his first wife Josephine King. Ouch! Of their affair, Sanders’ daughter (from his first marriage) Margaret later wrote, “Mother refused to accept that she alone could not satisfy Father’s physical needs, which from the very beginning of their marriage had seemed excessive to her…Neither promiscuous nor a whoremonger, Father nevertheless had a libido which required a healthy, willing partner…he found one in young Claudia.”  She was truly the women he knew he was meant to be with. Sanders and Price eventually married in 1949 and remained together until his death in 1980. Together they built the empire that became Kentucky Fried Chicken.  When Sanders sold his shares the two went on to open up the Claudia Sanders Dinner House in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 1959. It is still in operation today

3. KFC gravy: You may want to just use Ketchup

You didn’t think we’d get this far without talking about some of the odious stuff did you? The gravy; that wonderfully addictive saucy goodness served up with every order of KFC fried chicken.  Main ingredients? Fried “chicken crackle”. What’s that you say?  Basically it’s the bits of fried left-overs and whatever else falls into the Winston CollectraMatic’s“collection zone”. This machine basically collects all the chicken scraps: the cartilage, fat and crusty left-overs (“crackle” just sounds better) that land in the contraption’s bottom tray. A special investigation later uncovered that in many cases the retrieved morsels were 5 days old.  An undisclosed powder and water are added to the crackle and whisked until thickened, then cooked in a microwave and finally filtered through a very fine sieve (to get any left-over crackle out) and poured into tubs. Pass the Ketchup please

2. Double the Mac

Now for those that delight in these wonderful pleasures regularly or for the rest of us that simply need a decadent cheat-day every now and then, get your bibs ready, you’re gonna love this! The KFC Double Down sandwich uses two slabs of deep fried chicken as buns. The “buns” hold together a generously packed amount of bacon, cheese and a “special sauce” (another secret, I guess). Oh and KFC makes no qualms about it; this is not for the health conscious eater. This is the stuff burly man-dreams are made of.  The Double Down sandwich boasts 30g of fat and 540 calories. Making eating one of these bad boys the equivalent of eating two-and-a-half Big Macs.  It also has nearly three-and-a-half times the sodium as the McDonald’s signature sandwich.  This by-the-way, after KFC reduced the sodium to 1566g, down from 1740g the year prior. 

1. The Colonel shot a man over a signage dispute

The Colonel served briefly in the army as a wagoner from 1906 to 1907, but he was never a military colonel. His rank of “Kentucky Colonel” was honorary and one of more than 5000 titles reserved specifically for the affluent.  It was appointed to him by Governor Ruby Laffoon in 1935.  So no, the Colonel didn’t shoot a man in battle.   Sanders was notoriously ill tempered. As a young man he lost several jobs due to fist fights with co-workers as well as insubordination. Oh and his creative use of vulgarity was well documented among KFC executives. The “force and variety of his swearing” was even mentioned in a The New Yorker article.  In 1930, Sanders was involved in a heated and long running dispute with neighboring shop owner, Matt Stewert in North Corbin, Kentucky.  Sanders was determined at success and realizing this was a turning point in his life, he would let nothing stand in his way.  The culmination of something that started as a ridiculous, almost boyish school yard scrap (each man would systematically paint over the other’s signs to attract drivers to their respective shops) ended in a deadly gun battle. Sanders and Stewert fired on one another and finally Stewert ended up killing Sanders’ manager. Stewart was sentenced to 18 years for murder but all charges against Sanders were dismissed in court.

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