Chicken’s ‘taste’ opportunity

Father of KFC superbrand says now is the time to promote poultry

What advice does one of the 20th century’s top business leaders offer the chicken industry? The advice it turns out is pretty basic: Get control of food safety and promote chicken’s taste. That’s the message of John Y. Brown, Jr., Governor of Kentucky from 1979 until 1983, and, significantly, the father of the Kentucky Fried Chicken superbrand.

Brown, along with a group of investors, purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from its founder, Colonel Harland Sanders, for $2 million in 1964. He grew Kentucky Fried Chicken from 600 to 3,500 franchises. In 1971, Heublein Inc., acquired Kentucky Fried Chicken for $285 million.

A passion for the Colonel’s chicken

In naming Brown one of America’s top business leaders of the 20th century, Harvard Business School noted that he, alongside McDonald’s Ray Kroc, is recognized with launching the dynamic growth of the fast food industry.

Governor Brown, who spoke with me by phone ahead of a speech at the Alltech breakfast at the International Poultry Expo and International Feed Expo, said he was surprised and flattered at the recognition from Harvard.

“We were just a bunch of entrepreneurs who had a passion for the Colonel’s chicken, and we found a way to sell it, pretty much the way they sell it today with pretty much the same menu.”

Industry missing opportunities

In Brown’s view, however, the poultry industry today isn’t being aggressive enough in exploiting its opportunities. “It’s all about how you sell your product from the grower to the processor to the retailer, and I think the poultry industry has not taken advantage of the extraordinary advantage in the product that it serves.”

He named three principal selling attributes of chicken: nutritional health, product versatility and taste. Taste, he said, should be chicken’s preeminent selling point.

Brown said the industry should consider mounting a cooperative public relations and advertising campaign.

Need to sell chicken’s taste

The industry, he said, needs to first make certain that all aspects of its nutritional, health and food safety programs are in order. “Whatever that takes, the leadership needs to do that because that can bring you down quicker than anything,” he said.

After that, Brown said, “I would get all the best chefs and get them on TV shows and take advantage of the PR opportunities to let them talk about how great chicken tastes and how you can do so many different things with chicken. Not only is chicken good for you, it tastes better.”

The poultry industry can’t afford to rest on its laurels or ignore its opportunities, Brown said. And keeping product taste at the forefront of consumers’ attention is essential.

In the early days of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s success, Brown once delivered this reminder to company executives whom he felt were losing focus of the basics: “We’re all millionaires, remember, for two reasons,” he told them, “the Colonel looks good and his chicken tastes great.”