KFC’s Menu Innovations
August 8, 2019 | Innovation
by ExperiencePoint

In our previous blog, we highlighted some of the “outside the bucket” menu ideas KFC has brought to its restaurants over the years. Today, we’ll be looking at a few more additions the menu innovators at KFC have come up with thanks to design thinking.

A finger-lickin’ global sensation

As a worldwide brand, KFC serves customers in 135 countries and needs different menu items that accommodate different tastes, traditions and cultural expectations. What works in America may not work everywhere else, so the menu innovation team came together to use customer-centricity to add new menu items for different populations and, ultimately, provide customers with what they actually wanted. 

In Australia, they added a hot dog wrapped in a fried chicken bun, and in the Philippines, they debuted fries made of chicken skin. While some of these options may not sound palatable to North American taste buds, they often sold-out as soon as they were added to local menus.  
The 18 various innovation teams across the global brand came up with these ideas by focusing on customer empathy, brainstorming, ideating with customer feedback, and using trial and error to craft perfectly tailored, tasty offerings for each region they serve.

Interested in using diverse perspectives to bring customer-centered products to international markets? Check out our free eBook Diversity in Design for tips that will help you innovate.

But what about the process here at home?

Forbes has documented how KFC used their innovation program to drive growth and bring new menu items to American diners. Food and drink editor Alicia Kelso spoke to KFC’s CMO Andrea Zahumensky about her team’s innovation process, and how it spawned the wildly successful KFC Chicken and Waffles item a few years ago. While it wasn’t exactly a bucket-breaking innovation, it proved successful and provided a blueprint for further ideas. Other menu items to come from the American innovation team include The Nashville Hot Chicken, The Georgia Gold and The Pickle Fried Chicken. 


A cheesy idea

When looking at American tastes, the KFC team got a wild idea: a KFC-Cheetos product. But was it too far to add Cheetos to chicken? Would consumers actually want, and in turn, like such a product, outside of those with a morbid interest in off-the-wall food combinations? What led to the kind of unconventional thinking that produced such an item? Ultimately, KFC did their homework and used customer feedback and market trends to find out what people actually like and build a product that met their unfulfilled needs.

The innovators at KFC noticed that in 2018 alone, Chester Cheeto pulled in a cool $1.62 billion in sales, equaling 87 percent of the cheese snack market, leading KFC to wonder if the two teams could put their heads together and brainstorm something truly unique. The Cheetos team was also known for partnering with other brands, as the unique snack item has consistently popped up in indie menus at food trucks, Ma and Pa diners and even in high-end gourmet restaurants. Why couldn’t a big brand like KFC take a page from the little guy and innovate with flare? 

With a careful eye on the overall market, KFC spotted the Cheetos-in-everything trend and proposed a partnership. Once they got on to the core idea of a chicken and Cheetos sandwich, they created a few dozen variations of the product, tested it with real people and continued to revise the offering until the final product was ready for launch. With a one-month test period, it was quickly launched nationwide, and ultimately ran until July of 2019. 

food industry KFC Design thinking

The final concoction is an extra crispy chicken filet drizzled in a Cheetos-based sauce and nestled in a bed of actual Cheetos on a mayo-coated bun. Novel? Yes. Tasty? You bet. 

Ultimately, the goal wasn’t just to delight curious and adventurous customers, but to lure in new ones. Forbes quoted Zahumensky as saying: “We absolutely consider these innovative menu items as a way to bring a younger and new consumer into KFC, but we’re also focused on creating craveable menu items that could only come from KFC and that our fans will flock toward.”

The lesson from KFC is that it’s all about innovation — but not just for innovation’s sake. Any kind of ground-breaking product must start with careful consideration of the customer’s core needs and preferences, followed by testing, refinement and careful marketing. 

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