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CHICKEN and more

KFC may have the best chicken in town, but veggies will find some fine fingers and burgers here



KFC balances its non-vegetarian and vegetarian fare, depending on the country where it's based

KFC IS synonymous with chicken. It has to be because chicken is its flagship product. The latest they have on offer is the marinated hot and crispy chicken that is "crrrrisp and crunchy on the outside, and soft and juicy on the inside". It gives you a regular Pepsi with this at nothing more than just Rs. 39. But make no mistake, while this is a rage across the world, and in our very own Bangalore, KFC has made sure one other thing: it doesn't want to alienate the vegetarian community "that gave birth to the vegetarian menu". It means you can be veg and yet be at KFC.

KFC offers a wide range of vegetarian products such as the tangy, lip-smacking paneer tikka wrap 'n' roll, the veg de-lite burger, and the veg crispy burger. There are munchies such as the crisp golden veg fingers and crunchy golden fries served with tangy sauces.

If you are veg and looking for a meal, you can combine the veg fingers with steaming, peppery rice and a spice curry. The mayonnaise and sauces don't have egg in them.

Sharanita Keswani, Director, KFC Marketing, says the vegetarian menu in India came about when KFC found the country had about 35 per cent vegetarians, and in metros such as Delhi and Mumbai, almost 50 per cent.

The non-vegetarian is the obvious target customer because, as Ms. Sharanita points out, Bangalore and the rest of south India have over 70 per cent non-vegetarians. But she also observes that chicken is KFC's strength.

KFC's vegetarian menu is almost exclusive to India and is the most extensive. Most countries either do not have a vegetarian menu, and some which do, have a burger at the most. "Contrary to affecting chicken sales, the presence of a vegetarian menu has made the brand more relevant to a wider cross-section of the consumer society. This is essential as we grow the brand across the country," says Ms. Sharanita.

While the vegetarian menu has a significant presence in India owing to the country's distinct tastes, and therefore the need to localise, KFC's chicken products that are standardised are also modified in certain regards to suit local tastes. KFC officials say the zinger burger in any part of the world or original recipe chicken tastes the same as the chicken products are based on standard recipes. While this brand standard chicken may taste the same in New York or Bangalore, the sauce or topping is changed. The chicken strips are served with a local sauce or the sauce of the wrap is changed to local tastes. And as far as India is concerned Ms. Sharanita says: "Making itself relevant to local palates, KFC launched the wrap as chicken and paneer tikka roll in India."

The KFC menu strategy is to "balance standardisation and localisation". The localisation works in two ways: to modify a standard chicken product with a different topping or sauce; and to have a vegetarian menu, where necessary, along with the flagship product, chicken. The localisation exercise is undertaken in every country. "The U.S. and European markets have a traditional KFC menu based on chicken burgers and wraps, while Asian markets like India have been more experimental and adventurous. Here, they have rice meals, wraps, and sides. The change is imperative as Asian tastes can be very different from Western ones," Ms. Sharanita observes, adding that KFC learnt very early the high demand for vegetarian products in India.

KFC has taken care to maintain safeguards on the production of its non-vegetarian products in response to observations by People For Ethical Treatment of Animals that chicken were not being treated humanely by suppliers. The debate has been on for years now and animal rights activists have prompted companies to adopt stringent measures.

Pankaj Batra, Director, Marketing, Indian Sub-Continent, Yum! Restaurants International, observes: "KFC is committed to the well being and humane treatment of chickens. We require all our suppliers to follow welfare guidelines developed by Yum! Restaurants International, U.S.A., with leading experts on their Animal Welfare Advisory Council. In India, we source chicken from Venkateshwara Hatcheries Limited (Venky's), which is one of the leading and respected organised players in the poultry farming business. They also supply chicken to several reputed hotel and restaurant chains in the country. We respect the Indian law and our guidelines completely adhere to them."

Ms. Sharanita points out that while KFC's brand standard products are their strength throughout the world, KFC works around the core and gives consumers products with a familiar taste, especially "important in a country like India that is home to such distinct and different food habits".

KFC's challenge as Ms. Sharanita puts it, is to manage a brand's market with the right degree of flexibility so as to be strong in different and varied product markets.

PRASHANTH G.N.

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