The Great Fried Chicken Crisis of 2018 – How To Deal With a Crisis Without Loosing Consumers

KFC, a fast food chain specialising in fried chicken, recently hit the papers and social media in the UK for… running out of chicken. This major setback led to the closure of 900 outlets in the UK and Ireland, which lasted more than a week, with most restaurants still working on a limited menu at the time of writing.

A chicken restaurant without chicken – if that isn’t a crisis, what is? Here we take a look at the #KFCcrisis, how it unfolded but more importantly how KFC responded to it. Can KFC come out of this crisis smelling of roses?

How did KFC run out of chicken?

About four months ago, KFC changed its delivery partner that promised to “re-write the rule book and set a new benchmark for delivering fresh products to KFC in a sustainable way”. However almost immediately after taking over from Bidvest Logistics on Valentine’s Day, DHL, the new partner, experienced major operational issues and outlets experienced delivery delays. The crisis spread fast with deliveries backing up and by 18th February most of KFC’s 900 outlets in the UK were left without chicken and forced to close.

One can just imagine the disappointment and bewilderment of consumers turning up to their local KFC to find it close and then to be led on a wild goose chase only to find that most other branches were shut too. Not only that, 80% of KFC outlets are franchises, meaning that there were approximately 720 worried and ever-increasingly irate franchisees, who could not run their businesses. Furthermore, most of KFC’s employees are on zero-hour contracts, which means that they do not get paid if they do not work. How would they be expected to cope without pay?

KFC’s response

As soon as KFC realised the crisis was affecting more and more of its outlets, it posted the following message in its outlets:

Firstly, KFC apologises to its customers simply and clearly – “Sorry we’re closed”.

Then comes a brief explanation for the closures, referring to “teething problems” with its new delivery partner. KFC doesn’t refer to DHL negatively, but rather supports them by saying that the delivery operations required to deliver perishable products nationwide are complex as if to say that initial problems are to be expected when starting out. Furthermore, the notice mentions “fresh chicken” – did KFC’s consumers know that the company uses fresh chicken rather than frozen? If they didn’t, they do know. Clever if you ask me.

KFC goes on to say that it is closing its outlets so not to “compromise on quality”, which is seen as a move taken to preserve brand integrity.

Finally, it apologises again for the inconvenience.

KFC also set up a crisis landing page on its website with up-to-date information on local outlet openings. The title of the landing page ‘THE CHICKEN CROSSED THE ROAD, JUST NOT TO OUR RESTAURANTS’ uses humour with a play on the well-known series of English jokes starting “Why did the chicken cross the road?” This theme was developed in subsequent variations of the landing page, which continued to keep customers up to date with the status quo of its outlets (which ones were open and which ones closed).

Throughout its crisis communication KFC kept the tone light and used humour to poke fun at itself. Thankfully the crisis was not strictly KFC’s fault, there was no threat to the health and safety of its customers or employees and therefore the use of humour is acceptable in this case. This kind of communication is definitely in line with its brand positioning and with the audience it was targeting.

Of note is the praise given to the KFC staff and franchise managers who are “working flat out” or “round the cluck’ (another play of words on the phrase ‘around the clock’ and the sound a chicken makes) to resolve the problem.

The crisis continued: the full-page advert

After a week of closures and after receiving many complaints about closed outlets, limited menus and so on, KFC decided to take out a full-page apology advert in the morning papers, an advert that took Twitter and Facebook by storm. The cheekily-worded advert used an anagram of the company’s three-letter logo on a recognisable ‘bucket’, with which the company openly admits that it ‘fcked up’ and within the main text of the advert KFC apologises for its mistake, and again thanks its “team members and franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation”. They state that progress is being made, and every day more and more fresh chicken is arriving at its restaurants. KFC ends by thanking its customers for being patient.

This bold ad went social very quickly on Friday 23rd February, with most people seeing the ad for the first time on Twitter and Facebook – a prime example of how paid media can get extra reach by being shared on social media. Have you seen other brands say “fck” so publicly? The advert was very well-received by consumers and the marketing community for its tongue-in-cheek approach and its directness and seems to have done wonders for winning back the hearts of its customers.

Crisis resolution

Once progress was being made with KFC outlets opening up again throughout the country (albeit on a limited menu and in some cases shorter opening times), KFC’s communication continued to make fun of their mistake in a light-hearted way and started to bring back customers that had got their “chicken fix” elsewhere during the closures.

At this point the landing page read:

Not only is KFC offering a reward as compensation to its customers but it is effectively increasing its active database of customers. Crafty, isn’t it?

So did the chickens come home to roost?

Did KFC come out of the crisis unscathed? In terms of its customers, yes, we believe it did. The management’s rapid strategic response has ensured the brand will benefit long-term from increased awareness and a boost in consumer demand as soon as outlets reopen. Fortunately the crisis was not directly KFC’s fault, although some question why KFC didn’t have a contingency plan in place, which might have saved them money from lost sales, which has been estimated as more than $2 million a day at the height of the crisis according to analysts at Stifel.

Since DHL wasn’t able to deliver the essential supplies from its sole UK warehouse in a timely fashion to all KFC outlets, KFC has handed back more than a third of its delivery operations to Bidvest Logistics, its previous delivery partner, in a bid to get its restaurants back up and running. KFC’s franchisees will most likely receive lost income payments from DHL and we can hope that KFC’s low-wage employees will also receive some compensation for their lack of income during the crisis.


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