KFC learns to sell boneless chicken in the U.S. from its global markets

The chicken chain, known for its bone-in chicken, sold 100 million chicken nuggets in eight weeks last quarter as its boneless offerings thrive—finally.
KFC nuggets
KFC sold 100 million chicken nuggets in eight weeks. | Image courtesy of KFC.

Don’t look now, but KFC is becoming more of a boneless chicken chain. Thanks to lessons it’s learned from its restaurants in other parts of the world.

In 2021, the company introduced its chicken sandwich and generated strong sales in the process. Last quarter, the company introduced chicken nuggets, selling 100 million of them in the first eight weeks. That helped the brand’s same-store sales rise 5% domestically.

“These boneless offerings appeal to younger and new KFC customers and build upon an already well-established sales layer following the successful launch of the chicken sandwich in 2021,” CEO David Gibbs said.

And, he said, the company can thank its global markets for that success, suggesting that the U.S. learned from its overseas markets on what it takes to sell boneless chicken.

For whatever reason, bone-in brands like KFC struggled to truly master boneless options such as sandwiches or chicken nuggets.

That was a problem because consumers were clearly favoring boneless offerings. While chicken was increasingly popular in the U.S., bone-in chains such as KFC stagnated or lost ground and demand surged at Chick-fil-A and more recently Raising Cane’s. Both of those brands remain among the most financially impressive concepts in the country.

That’s part of why the Popeyes chicken sandwich was such a landmark item. The product was popular at a traditional bone-in chain, meaning it had permission to expand its menu well beyond the bone-in offerings in which it was known. And KFC took full advantage.

But KFC also took some lessons from those global markets. KFC has thrived globally in part because those markets can adapt their menus to local tastes. And its relative newness to those markets mean customers don’t have any preconceived notions about what the brand is about. As such, they can sell whatever they want, as long as customers want it.

That has led to some interesting innovation in these markets. Turner, for instance, said one of his favorite items is the Biryani Chicken in India, where nuggets are served on top of a bed of rice. The Chicken Zinger sandwich, meanwhile, “has been a huge hit” globally. Yet even that sandwich didn’t take when the U.S. market tried introducing it in 2017.

“Eighty-five percent of KFC is outside the U.S.,” Yum CFO Chris Turner said in an interview. “Many of those markets have had high-performing chicken off the bone for decades.”

Yum, with four brands and dozens of global markets, has been intent on improving cooperation between markets in recent years. At Pizza Hut, the chain has quickly expanded its Melts product from the U.S. to more than 35 countries around the world.

And, apparently, those global markets helped KFC crack the code for selling boneless options in its home market. Finally.

“We always look to share best practices,” Chris Turner, CFO of KFC parent Yum Brands, said in an interview. “It’s part of the value of Yum having multiple brands in our system.”

“With the nuggets and boneless chicken, we’re sharing best practices from around the world,” he added.

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