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."


Comments

    See i always thought they took a few of every ingredient, and chucked them in a room together, shook the room with an earthquake machine, and wherever 3 or more ingredients were touching, that became their next menu item

    Whatever the Food Innovation team are being paid...it's too much.

    I always thought their meetings would go like this.
    Boss: Ok crew what are we going to do next?
    Staff; How about we deep fry some chickens?
    This is followed by high fives all around, job done & off to the pub.

    It's just a shame that they don't spend as much time sorting out their horrible stores. I've made the mistake of going to my local KFC 3 times in the last couple of months (I blame the booze from the night before), and each time they've completely f'ed up the cooking of the food. Hell, the chips were undercooked, how is that even possible? Surely they're cooked from frozen in a electronically controlled deep fryer for a specific amount of time?

    Maybe they should spend less time on "organic marketing" through sites like Lifehacker, and more time fixing their customer facing issues.

      that actually how they cook kfc chips, infuriatingly undercooked by about 30 seconds, doesnt matter where you go in the country, you never get actually crispy kfc chips

        which is frustrating because, on the RARE occasion where the chips are crispy, they're goddam delicious.

        They must have changed it, they used to be great (well, in the places where they actually cooked it properly, they used to be great).

      The worst fast food sin possible IMO - chips which are lukewarm in the middle. It's a shame since KFC chips are probably the best of the lot (excluding 'restaurant' fast food chains like Schnitz).

    I quite like KFC - in Thailand. Little plates, and self serve pumps of chilli sauce.
    Aussie KFC is a poor cousin.

    Ah Chris, belated congratulations in your new role.

    I miss takeaway truth though.

    Who can forget
    “The coleslaw looks completely gross and bears almost no resemblance to the poster. In place of the lovely medley of carrots, cabbags and mayo, you get a swamp of glistening, unidentifiable lumps which look suspiciously like hocked-up loogies. Lovely.”
    http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/08/takeaway-truth-kfc-zinger-stacker-and-kentucky-burgers/

    or even better
    “The most glaring difference is the lack of visible corn chips — instead of popping out like individual hors d’oeuvres, the chips were all buried at the bottom of the box. Nachos? It looks more like week-old garbage mixed with surgery leftovers.”
    http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/03/takeaway-truth-kfcs-nacho-box/

      Cheers! Takeaway Truth is still kicking about - watch this space, as they say.

    KFC is the worst value for money takeaway in Australia.Their ads do not resemble the actual mini meal presented.Their taco meal was a big disaster and a bigger rip-off.No wonder it got pulled.We no longer have KFC as do our friends.Their main competition has tastier meals and at great prices.

    Tacos were a huge success... Most stores ran out of supplies for the tacos for the whole duration period in the first 4 days. They were never pulled, they were extended for an extra week for those stores which brought in extra stock.

    I remember years ago when I was in Hobart I went to a test KFC - A&W store. Where it sold the usual KFC items as well as beef burgers, onion rings and root beer etc. Unfortunately I guess the idea wasn't that sucessful as it had changed back to a regular KFC when I went back. I personally would of liked to see more of them open up.

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