Here’s How KFC’s Global HQ in Plano is Driving Its High-Flying Success

From shrimp donuts to Cheetos sandwiches, Kentucky Fried Chicken doesn't cook inside the lines. That's largely due to the Food Innovation Team at its global headquarters in North Texas, who are responsible for maintaining the other teams (and their menu concoctions) across the world.

We all know that Colonel Sanders does the majority of his chicken frying in Louisville, Kentucky, at KFC’s massive U.S. headquarters. This isn’t news to anyone—the fast food giant is literally named after the state it was born in. But what you might be surprised to learn is that Kentucky Fried Chicken also has another headquarters right here in North Texas, and it’s actually where a lot of the innovation you might see on a KFC menu is dreamt up.

In terms of sales, KFC is the second-largest restaurant chain following McDonald’s. With more than 22,000 locations across 135-plus countries, KFC certainly has a massive, worldwide scope. That might be an important reason as to why its global headquarters in Plano are so important.

As a subsidiary of Yum! Brands—think Pizza Hut and Taco Bell—KFC has a number of international corporate employees based here. Yum! Brands is also headquartered in Kentucky, but according to D CEO, more than 500 Yum! employees operate out of Plano, primarily in the Pizza Hut U.S., Pizza Hut International, and KFC International divisions.

Late last month, Forbes reported that around 300 of KFC’s top global marketers gathered in Dallas-Fort Worth at the annual Marketing Planning Meeting to swap trends, ideas, and best practices. Apparently, that’s also where the majority of KFC’s “menu magic” happens.

Stepping outside the coop

Forbes‘ Alicia Kelso reported that KFC is able to get extra creative with new products because of its 18 food innovation teams around the world, which are maintained by a four-person Food Innovation Team in DFW’s KFC Global Kitchen. The local team serves as a “guardrail” for the other outposts, so each location can make the food its own depending on cultural preferences.

The concoctions served at KFC might seem odd depending on where you’re from, as the ingredients are largely based on where in the world it’s coming from. From France’s Croque Monsieur and the Philippines’ “Chizza,” to Thailand’s shrimp donuts and Sri Lanka’s chicken biryani (to name a few), KFC clearly doesn’t stick to your typical drumsticks, tenders, and wings.

Last June, there was even a sold-out vegan burger launch in the U.K. The same went for Indonesia’s chicken skin fries launch.

And let’s not forget KFC’s Cheetos Sandwich that debuted here earlier this year. D Magazine’s Catherine Downes described it as “fried chicken that’s coated in something called ‘special Cheetos sauce’ and served on a pile of Cheetos, which are stacked on a bun that’s smeared with mayonnaise.” She also pointed out that Cheetos are Plano’s greatest export.

“We spend time working on how to elevate our 11 herbs and spices for each market,” Ana Maria Basurto, who leads the DFW Food Innovation Team, told Forbes. “Our strength as a global company is leveraging food innovation and marketing teams around the world to have a better understanding of what consumers prefer.”

In Q1, KFC delivered a system sales growth of 9 percent, which CEO Greg Creed attributed to “creative products for the performance.” But it might not just be the quirky menu items that are causing KFC’s success.

The innovation team has also strategically used social media to leverage the buzz around the particularly out-there eats, according to an article in The Guardian last year. In doing so, The Guardian reports that sales in the U.S. and U.K. rose.

And an increase in sales could also be attributed to the infamous Colonel Sanders himself.

Catherine Tan-Gillespie, KFC’s Global Chief Marketing Officer who’s based out of Dallas, recently took some of her staff to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. She told the Franchise Times that for the last year and a half, KFC has tightened its brand positioning to focus on the idea of originality because “nothing tastes like it.”

She points to KFC’s ‘Chickendales’ dancers that debuted this past Mother’s Day as a great example of channeling the spirit of Colonel Sanders in a way that’s fiesty, eccentric, and embodying.

Whatever it may be, KFC has already been a star this year, as is evident by the Yum! Brands First Quarter 2019 Earnings Release call. The execs said that KFC is the largest Yum! division in units and profit contribution, with 5 percent same-store sales growth and 6 percent net new unit growth.

According to the call, KFC’s numbers are driven by the brand’s international strength, “standout performances” in some larger markets, and “breakthrough marketing” from the innovation lab.

A dive into the transcript also reveals that KFC will launch U.S. delivery later this year. Creed remains “very positive” about the brand, because when it comes to KFC innovation, it’s happening, it’s great, and there’s more to come.

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