#Shoptalk19: How can KFC be more RED?

KFC is already an iconic brand, with over 22,000 restaurants in 136 countries generating $26 billion in revenue. But the 67-year-old fast-food retailer knows it needs to keep innovating to remain nimble in a very competitive market.

Ryan Ostrom, global chief digital officer (CDO) at KFC, took to the stage at Shoptalk 2019 in Las Vegas this week to explain how KFC is trying to become more RED – relevant, easy and distinctive.

He started off by saying a lot people ask why KFC has a CDO: “We’re one of the fastest growing retailers you never really knew what we did outside fried chicken,” he says. “Digital is not a strategy, function of channel. Digital is part of everyone’s business, from HR, operations to supply chain.”


Going on to discuss KFC’s ambitions to become more relevant, easy and distinctive, he explains that relevance is tough because KFC is based in so many local markets around the world, with various nuances and customs.

“So we do this through our food… spicy flavour is a trend around the world,” he says, showing Shoptalk delegates a number of different localised flavour combinations from pineapple Sriracha in Latin American and a Cheetos chicken sandwich in the US, to an Asian offering where the brand merged together both pizza and KFC chicken to create a chizza. “It’s about creating innovation and buzz and social-sharing Instagram-worthy food.”

But Ostrom says the “number one thing in our markets is value”, pointing to an offer KFC quickly rolled out after the Polish footballer, Robert Lewandowski, scored five goals in nine minutes for Bayern Munich. The fast-food retailer offered Polish customers five pieces of chicken for 9zl and saw sales double.

Meanwhile, back in the UK in early 2018, KFC hit the headlines for supply chain issues which caused hundreds of stores to close. Ostrom showed the audience KFC’s Cannes award-winning advert depicting an empty bucket on its side with the letters ‘FCK’ rather than ‘KFC’. “When things go wrong as a brand, you own up as a way that’s so relevant.”


When it comes to providing customers easy ways to engage with the brand, Ostrom describes myriad technologies KFC has been trialling.

“We all know Amazon, the leader of ease. But we don’t go ‘how do we beat Amazon’, but ‘how do we look at various touchpoints that are repetitive and challenging and leverage technology?’”

But doing this isn’t easy, especially when franchise partners may not be committed to go on that digital journey. Despite this KFC has made a pretty impressive attempt at using technology to create less friction for the customer. Ostrom points to click & collect, in-store kiosks and delivery innovations, which are rolled-out to create best-in-class standards for the brand.

Meanwhile, KFC has also been trialling various technologies in different markets to understand how customers react before they are rolled out further. For example, in India, KFC has created frictionless ordering via Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa, or even sending an emoji of a chicken drumstick to re-order their favourite meal.

Digital innovations are not just for the customers, KFC is also using tech to train its 800,000 employees around the world, including Google Glass to show workers how to make a chicken sandwich in Latin American and Amazon Alexa on hand for kitchen questions in Australia. “The old ways of sitting at a computer for training is out of date,” he adds.

“We’re a very old brand, so saying we’ll be agile and quick is a challenge,” Ostrom points out. “So we’ve been hiring new talent and changing the way the organisation executes things – how do you do it faster, better and with the right purpose?”

By 2020, KFC says it will have more in-store kiosks than Bank of America, more delivery options than a traditional pizza delivery company and more click & collect outlets than the mainstream grocers.


“If you don’t stand out, no one will find you or buy you or care about your brand,” says Ostrom, explaining that brands must leverage the assets that define them.

For KFC it is the founder Colonel Sanders, who is an iconic figure on every bucket. Sander’s founded KFC with his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices when he was 60-years-old and continued to become the face of the brand and its ambassador. While he died aged 90 back in 1980, the brand still uses Colonel Sanders in its advertising and through all of its digital touchpoints.

“He was the most interesting guy in the world,” says Ostrom. “Whether the advert is in the US or France you see the colonel and you know its KFC – it’s distinctive.”