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BLIMPS REJOICE! "Grilled" At KFC Means You Can Gobble More Pieces OfChicken Than The Original "Boogies On A Bone" Fried Artery-Cloggers!
"EVERY fast food CEO faces a fundamental challenge in this era of
nutritional awareness: how to get folks to eat food that is often
astonishingly bad for them."
"The Fast Food Plate and Switch"
By Steve Almond
Sunday, May 17, 2009
WHEN KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN announced several weeks ago that it would
be introducing grilled chicken, urging customers to "unthink KFC" --
and forget what the "F" stands for -- I felt a thrill that was both
involuntary and deeply embarrassing.
I had become a devotee of Kentucky Fried back in the '80s, when I was
a latchkey teen with an iron stomach. The Colonel's recipe made up an
estimated 70 percent of my caloric intake. But over the next two
decades, my digestive tolerance plummeted, my cholesterol levels
spiked, and I cut back. The last time I partook of KFC was in graduate
school during an epic binge. My friend John and I ordered the 10-piece
dinner, then managed to sweet-talk another half dozen pieces from the
bored cashier. An hour later, bloated from the salt and cramping from
all the fat, I swore off the stuff.
Why, then, did the Colonel's new, healthier product so entice me?
Because I have a serious weakness for grilled anything. (My wife
claims that I would eat shoe leather if it was properly marinated and
As it turns out, I wasn't alone in my curiosity about KFC grilled
chicken. Thanks to a coupon for a free two-piece lunch proffered by
Oprah Winfrey on her Web site and promoted on her show earlier this
month, franchises across the country found themselves overrun by
poultry-mad hordes. Apparently the company underestimated both the
power of Oprah's endorsement and the allure of a free lunch during
hard times. Consumers downloaded more than 10 million coupons, forcing
the chain to pull the plug after serving just four million gratis
Chief executive Roger Eaton appeared on Oprah a few days later to
apologize for the fiasco. But his "apology" was more celebratory than
contrite. "We had very big projection numbers on this," he noted, "but
not in our wildest imagination could we believe the response we've
After all, the whole point of the coupon was to garner attention for
the biggest product launch in company history. Mission accomplished.
But Eaton's real agenda, I suspect, is far more nefarious. Like every
other fast food CEO, he faces a fundamental challenge in this era of
nutritional awareness: how to get folks to eat food that is often
astonishingly bad for them.
One popular strategy is to target populations -- kids, teens and the
poor in particular -- who tend to ignore nutritional warnings. Thus
the massive migration of fast food franchises onto high school and
What's more, virtually every fast food chain has used the economic
downturn to drum up sales with dollar menus and other special
But fast food executives have also found ways to exploit consumer
anxieties over nutrition, by introducing allegedly "healthy" menu
These items serve two crucial functions. First, they attract a segment
of the population that otherwise might never set foot in a fast food
restaurant. My friend Billy, for instance, is able to convince his
vegetarian wife to visit McDonald's because salads and yogurt parfaits
are on the menu.
Second, these "healthy" options wind up allowing consumers to feel
okay about frequenting what amount to dietary houses of sin. After
all, the barrier to purchase when it comes to fast food isn't cost,
convenience or taste. It's guilt.
And fast food executives are well aware of this psychological dynamic.
It's their job, basically, to draw customers who want to gorge
themselves but know that they shouldn't. I myself have played this
game plenty of times. If I get the Diet Coke and the side salad, I'll
have "earned" the large fries.
What's more remarkable is that the very presence of healthy items on a
fast food menu can induce consumers to feel better about ordering a
A recent study of fast food eating habits revealed an effect known as
"vicarious goal fulfillment." This means that the simple act of
considering a healthy item makes people feel justified in ordering the
high-fat option. Even more astonishing is the fact that the pattern is
more pronounced among eaters who normally exhibit high levels of self-
This may come as a revelation to academics, but I'd be willing to bet
my last Whopper that the fast food brass has known about it for years.
After all, their profit margins depend on an acute psychological
understanding of their paying customers.
McDonald's most recent quarterly earnings statement tells the whole
story. In these difficult times, they've seen profits climb due to
increased sales of their core products, such as the 410-calorie
Quarter Pounder, not their Garden Salads.
Which brings us back to the KFC grilled chicken that, inevitably, I
sampled a few days ago. The crowds had thinned by the time I showed
up, but promotional banners emblazoned with sumptuous-looking grilled
drumsticks were still flapping overhead.
I hope it will not come as a shock to learn that KFC's "grilling"
process involves no actual flames. Instead, the pieces are baked in a
convection oven and imprinted with faux grill marks. The chicken
itself tastes a lot like the rotisserie you can buy in supermarkets.
But it is certainly true that KFC grilled offers a dramatic caloric
improvement over the chain's Original Recipe. In fact, the fat content
of a single Original Recipe breast (21 grams) is equal to an entire
half chicken of the grilled variety.
The problem is that when it came time to order our food, both my wife
and I, rather predictably, fell victim to "vicarious goal
I gave myself permission to order two sides, mashed potatoes with
gravy and macaroni and cheese. My wife insisted that I get one
Original Recipe piece for her. (It seems those 11 herbs and spices
have sentimental value. She and her girlfriends used to eat KFC to
ease the pain of break-ups.) In the end, our meals tipped the scales
at more than 800 calories each. The FDA considers 2,000 calories to be
a normal daily allotment.
KFC's grilled chicken may go on to be a rip-roaring success. But like
every "healthy" option dangled by fast food chains, it's ultimately a
gimmick. The Colonel could care less whether you lose weight, as long
as you keep fattening his wallet.
[Steve Almond is the author, most recently, of the essay collection
"(Not That You Asked)."]
BLIMPS REJOICE! "Grilled" At KFC Means You Can Gobble More PiecesOf Chicken Than The Original "Boogies On A Bone" Fried Artery-Cloggers!
Then, we have "peoples" who aren't too discriminating when it comes to
satisfying hunger ...
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