Fried chicken franchise KFC has has admitted that all efforts to move away from solely selling fried food has had to be abandoned because sales of healthier alternatives were so bad.
The fast food giant spent £8 million (R145 million) installing ovens in its outlets so it could start selling baked and grilled meals, rather than the fattier deep-fried foods for which it is famous.
But a senior executive at the company admitted it gave up after poor sales of three products – the Brazer grilled chicken sandwich launched in 2011, the Rancher sandwich in 2012 and a pulled chicken product launched in 2015.
‘It didn’t go brilliantly well. We tried and we failed to launch a non-fried product,’ said Jenny Packwood, head of brand engagement at KFC UK and Ireland.
‘We were unable to sustain sales. They were just not selling,’ she told Public Health England’s annual conference in Warwick.
‘It’s no good launching a product which looks good nutritionally but then nobody buys.
‘It doesn’t improve the health of the nation and in terms of sustainability it is a disaster.’
The firm has also tried to make its French fries healthier – by making them thicker, meaning there is a lower surface area to soak up oil – resulting in an 18 percent reduction in calories and 12 percent in fat.
‘Frankly it has been controversial and we get a lot of grief about our fries,’ she said.
The company has had more success with a healthy rice box, which includes a single piece of fried chicken surrounded by salad and rice, coming in at less than 500 calories.
‘It’s giving people a little bit of what they love but wrapping it in something healthier.’
She described the best tactic as a ‘health by stealth’ approach – gradually removing fat, calories and salt so customers do not notice.
KFC’s experience could be a bad sign for Public Health England’s plan to set voluntary calorie caps on all meals served in restaurants and supermarkets, as part of its attempts to combat obesity.
Tesco group quality director Sarah Bradbury, also speaking at the conference, said the chain saw plummeting sales of its own-brand tomato soup when it reduced salt 15 years ago in response to Government targets.
‘Overnight they stopped buying our soup,’ she said.
‘We had to put salt back in, and then slowly take them along the journey, and over the 15 years we have taken 40 percent of salt out.
‘But it is slow burn to ensure that we take customers’ palates with us as we do it.’
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, insisted ‘reformulating’ daily products to make them more healthy will be successful.
She said she was not surprised that KFC’s attempts to introduce healthier products had not worked, because people who eat there are not likely to be seeking out healthy food.
But Dr Tedstone said she was encouraged by the chain’s decision to stick with the altered fries.
‘A small change in chips could have a massive effect,’ she said. ‘The heart of this project is changing the “everyday” product.
‘You get to the bog standard person who is coming in to buy chips, rather than the health-seeker, who may be doing something different.’