From Concept To Counter: How KFC Creates Its Food

Have you ever wondered how KFC comes up with its food products? It seems there’s something new on the menu every other week; from experimental potato pies to unique takes on the Mexican taco. Interestingly, the road from concept to finished product it a lot more involved than you might think. Read on to find out how KFC brainstorms foodstuffs into your bucket.

Lifehacker recently spoke to KFC’s chief food innovation and technology officer, Fritz Meyer, about how the fast food giant creates its products. While the core menu remains mostly unchanged, the innovation team is kept busy dreaming up limited-edition menu items which debut once a fortnight. The basic philosophy is to “reward” customers with something new every time they visit a store.

According to Meyer, this is an essential part of KFC’s overall profits and a key reason why customers keep coming back. In other words, it’s imperative that these products don’t completely suck. The process is so vigorous that many of the products KFC develops don’t make it to the front counter at all.

“We’d love to introduce every great new product our team develops, but unfortunately this is simply not feasible,” Meyer explained to us. “We will only introduce a product nationally if we know our fans are going to love it and if it’s great value for money.”

As you’d expect, money is a key factor when it comes to the creation of new products. Typically, a new product is permitted up to three new ingredients in addition to existing menu items with the overall number dependent on food prices. If you ever ordered a KFC Nacho Box and wondered why there was no sour cream or guacamole, this is the reason why: it’s all about getting the food/price balance right.

The innovation team closely follows emerging food trends when creating a new product, although the concept needs to match customer expectations. (What Myers refers to as “KFC-ification.”) You therefore won’t see anything completely alien or out-there on the menu.

So where do the ideas for new food products come from? According to Meyer, KFC likes to cast its net wide, with the marketing team, suppliers and regular employees all contributing. It’s then up to the food innovation team to turn these concepts into a reality.

Here’s how the process breaks down:

  1. The Food Innovation team brainstorms food ideas and analyses general market research for trends and customer interests and insights.
  2. A new product concept is taken to senior management team for approval for testing phase.
  3. Initial development of product begins with chef and product innovation team.
  4. Creation of test product.
  5. Product testing with group of up to 16 consumers to taste and give feedback (consumers are generally found through recruitment agencies).
  6. Product is updated based on feedback.
  7. Product testing.
  8. Product packaging development begins.
  9. Final product testing.
  10. Product goes to market.

It sounds more like the manufacturing process for a laptop or smartphone, doesn’t it? Even after reaching the final stage, some products are only served in a handful of outlets via a soft launch before promptly disappearing. As Meyer explains:

“We have a vigorous testing and trial process for products that have passed the research and development phase and this includes offering the product at certain stores to see how customers respond. We also use this as an opportunity to improve the back of house process required to prepare the product, before we decide if we want to roll it out nationally.”

The consumer taste-test panel is arguably the most important step of the process, where feedback can completely transform a product. Customers are asked a lot of open-ended questions about the product, including the build, appearance and whether the taste meets their expectations.

“Very rarely do we get it right the first time,” Myers said. “So we’ll make the changes based on the feedback and tailor the product to suit the type of customer we think the product will most appeal to.

“So it’s a long process from the time an idea starts to the time we actually get it onto the menu — it really is an enormous journey. And we do it every week.”

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