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And Now, Finger Lickin' Good For Ya?

Kentucky Fried Chicken. Its powerful brand name summons up images of white-bearded Colonel Sanders, steaming fried chicken, biscuits, and gravy. But to many health-conscious Americans, it also stands for cholesterol, sodium, and fat. Hence a paradoxical problem for Kentucky Fried Chicken Corp.: As an alternative to beef, chicken consumption is soaring. But fear of frying has helped curb the company's growth while demand jumps for grilled, broiled, and baked poultry.

So, the Pepsico Inc. unit has decided to change its image and its menu. Under the leadership of Kyle Craig, president of the U. S. business, and his boss, Kentucky Fried Chief Executive John M. Cranor III, the chain is trying to reposition itself in consumers' eyes in hopes of attracting more careful eaters to its 5,000 restaurants. The goal is to turn the $3.2 billion business into a chain of one-stop chicken eateries offering both fried chicken and such nonfried items as broiled chicken and chicken salad sandwiches. To sell this change, Craig and Cranor are planning a gradual replacement of the original name with just the initials KFC. "The key is to reduce dependence on the word `fried,' " says Craig. Some marketing analysts question the wisdom of shedding a well-known name. "Initials are a passport to anonymity," says Clive Chajet, chairman of Lippincott & Margulies Inc., a New York corporate identity consultant. "It's very hard to fashion a restaurant's identity based on initials." But Craig and his franchisees disagree. "The name KFC got over 99% recognition when shown with the Colonel's mug," says James Cornett, a franchisee based in Culpeper, Va. Others say they figure the name change is irrelevant: "They have a product problem, not a name problem," says Ron Paul, head of marketing consulting firm Technomic Inc.