Diners say not biting on KFC's China revival campaign

Wed Dec 4, 2013 6:30pm EST
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By Lisa Baertlein and Adam Jourdan

NEW YORK/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Yum Brands Inc's KFC website in China trumpets the slogan "Trust in every bite."

That message is part of the company's new "I Commit" campaign intended to reassure customers in its largest market, who have cut back on visits since Chinese media reports a year ago about excessive antibiotic use by a few KFC suppliers.

There is a lot at stake for Yum. It is China's largest Western restaurant operator with roughly 4,500 KFC outlets, and the company reaps more than half of its overall operating profit there.

Despite a decades-long reputation for serving safe food in China, KFC has struggled to fully restore diners' trust in a country where dangerous contamination scandals are commonplace.

Interviews with Chinese consumers suggest that rather than soothing concerns, KFC's new ads are reminding diners about the food safety scare at the fried-chicken chain, which could undermine Yum's mission to revive sales there.

Yum Chief Executive David Novak said he is confident that "I Commit" is on target - noting that "hundreds and hundreds of consumers" in testing said they felt better about the KFC brand after the chain directly addressed safety worries.

"We don't want to be doing it forever, but we want to communicate it and get it out there because it's a lingering issue," Novak told Reuters in an interview following Yum's annual investor meeting in New York on Wednesday.

A survey conducted in November found nearly 40 percent of respondents were still very concerned about antibiotic use in KFC chickens. Yum, which cut off some of its suppliers after the television report on antibiotics, initially predicted safety fears would quickly fade.   Continued...