Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chicken fight

Truth be told, Goliath usually squashes David. So when KFC lunged for the public’s attention with a carefully choreographed announcement of its new non-fried, non-grilled yet still sear-marked roasted chicken, El Pollo Campero must’ve realized the heat would be on. Yet the plucky Guatemalan chain countered with some marketing ju-jitsu. A day after KFC drew headlines in everything from USA Today to The Podunk Press with its plan to introduce Kentucky Grilled Chicken by next year, Campero, a chain with 38 restaurants in the United States, announced that its new grilled chicken would be offered as of today. “Pollo Campero beats competition to market with choice of grilled and fried bone-in chicken,” the much-smaller chain crowed in a press release. And presumably it’s a true grilled chicken at that.

Campero president Roberto Denegri acknowledged that the chain was bringing its non-fried option to the U.S. “a little early,” but attributed the timing to America’s love of grilling during the spring. He failed to explain why that should be a factor, given that the restaurants would be grilling the chicken, not their patrons.

But back to KFC. We at NRN were astonished other media failed to note a monumental point that didn’t slip by executive editor Richard Martin. To call attention to the rollout, Col. Sanders’ brainchild is allowing franchisees to rename their stores, “Kentucky Fried & Grilled Chicken.” In the world of restaurant reportage, this is a big move. Huge, in fact. Though it remains to see if it will be adjudged a smart one.

We were also surprised by the chain’s efforts to prolong the announcement, asserting at one point that the news was “embargoed” until March 24, or provided only on the understanding that it not be disclosed until that date. Yet it allowed selected media to go ahead and publicize the year-away rollout (the product is currently only in test, albeit it on a large scale) as soon as they heard about it, rendering an embargo void by the rules of publicist-journalist engagement. Nor did we make any pact prior to being fed the info on the product last week. So we went ahead and reported it.

Maybe the chain is preoccupied with its ambitious goal of convincing the public that KGC is truly grilled, when in fact KFC acknowledged to journalists that it’s cooked in a high-tech oven, up to 80 pieces at a time. The claim to being grilled comes from the use of a special plate in the roaster that sears grill marks onto the meat. That’s like putting “singer” on your resume because you sometimes belt out a tune while soaping up in the shower.

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Anonymous steakman said...

Those who do not learn from their past are doomed to repeat it. As a vet of the the Rotisserie wars of the 90's,I can vividly recall KFC's roasted chicken boondoogle. This newest attempt at becoming relevent again reeks of desperation and a lack of imagination or longterm vision. Their biggest crime is not recognizing that the american consumer is much more sophisticated and will not settle for junk. Alot of QSR's have lifted the bar for quality.

Sincerely, Steakman

March 26, 2008 at 10:06 AM  

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