KFC puts its spin on chicken & waffles

A classic Southern pair makes its debut at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Photograph courtesy of KFC

For the past 10 years, the folks at KFC have been tracking the ascent of chicken and waffles on restaurant menus. The Southern favorite was showing up everywhere from food trucks to breakfast chains and fine-dining menus. So why did it take this fried chicken specialist so long to launch its version?

“We wanted to deliver the best waffle to match our amazing extra-crispy chicken,” says Bob Das, head chef for KFC. He and his team worked on developing that waffle for 18 months, going through 15 iterations before achieving the perfect pairing.

It was worth the wait, judging by consumer response. KFC launched its Kentucky Fried Chicken & Waffles as a limited-time offer last November, and many locations sold out in two weeks. “We projected it to run for six weeks, but sales exceeded supply,” says Das. Fans didn’t have to wait long for the item’s return, however. KFC brought back the LTO in March, working with its waffle supplier to ramp up production to ensure a longer run through the end of April.

Perfecting the waffle

Das enlisted KFC food scientist Sarah Doyle to work with him and the bakery supplier to develop a waffle that fit texture, flavor and size specs. The result is a yeast-raised Belgian-style waffle produced in the U.S. and topped with pearl sugar imported from Belgium. The bits of sugar caramelize when the waffle is heated, creating a crunch, says Das. “We looked at waffle sticks, smaller toaster-style rounds and square waffles, but this won. It delivers on taste and texture and really differentiates the product,” he says. The only other new SKU needed for the LTO was pancake syrup.

Executing with ease

KFC didn’t have to bring any special equipment into its units to run this LTO. “To order, the waffles are dropped into the same fryers as our chicken and crisp up in 15 seconds,” says Das. Team members just needed brief training on the flash-fry method, and the LTO was ready to go, Das adds. Franchisees got on board fast because the prep is very simple and the item is easy to execute. Plus, “Demand and sales were so great, the franchisees turned a very nice profit,” he says.

A renewed focus on innovation

Over the next five years, KFC’s goal is to grow through meaningful innovation, President Kevin Hochman relayed in a recent episode of “A Deeper Dive,” Restaurant Business’ podcast. “We want things to be a ‘wow’ for our customers and franchise partners and deliver that ‘wow’ while growing profits,” Hochman said. He mentioned that some exciting, short-lived items designed to generate a lot of buzz may be in the works, but KFC will stick to its core mission of offering “real meals made the right way.”

The result

KFC’s Kentucky Fried Chicken & Waffles Basket Meal, $5.49; sandwich, $5.99

• 101.5% Increase

The number of operators menuing chicken and waffles doubled over the past five years.

Source: Technomic Ignite Menu Data

• 24% Purchase Intent

Nearly a quarter of younger consumers (ages 18-24) say they would order chicken and waffles at a restaurant or other foodservice location at least occasionally.

Source: Technomic Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report

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