KFC is targeting flexitarians and vegans who want to try the taste of fried chicken as it trials its first-ever vegan burger in the UK.
The Imposter burger launches on Monday (17 June) and will be available in selected restaurants in London, Bristol and the Midlands for four weeks. It is made from a Quorn fillet and uses the Colonel’s "original recipe" of herbs and spices, with iceberg lettuce, vegan mayo and a soft-glazed bun.
Consumers might be surprised by KFC’s latest product given the brand has long put the quality and taste of its chicken front and centre. In 2017, for example, KFC ran an ad campaign, created by Mother London, that showed the bird twerking and dancing around a barn, with the tagline "the chicken, the whole chicken and nothing but the chicken".
That spot was the Advertising Standards Authority’s most-complained about ad in 2017, with 755 complaints, including some that said it was disrespectful to chickens and distressing for vegetarians, vegans and children since it depicted a bird headed for slaughter.
But with the Imposter burger, KFC is not trying to lure those vegans and vegetarians who are offended by its business.
"What we’re not trying to do is necessarily win over that group of people," Meghan Farren, chief marketing officer at KFC UK and Ireland, told Campaign. "We’re under no illusions that KFC will suddenly become a destination for vegans with a strong point of view."
Instead, KFC aims to offer more choice to vegans and vegetarians who have never been able to try the restaurant but may want to, as well as people who are eating less meat for health or ethical reasons.
"What makes KFC so amazing is the chicken and its quality, but also a key element is the Colonel’s recipe. We had an ‘aha’ moment that we could give at least part of that amazingness to people who don’t want to eat meat or eat meat less often," Farren said.
A new vegetarian item, called the Southern Fritter Stacker, will also be trialled at the same UK locations from 15 July. It will be available as a burger, wrap or rice box.
After the trial period, KFC plans to roll out the vegan burger "in a big way" next year, with another campaign created by Mother that will maintain the same bold and honest tone of voice as previous advertising, Farren said.
In recent years KFC has expanded its menu to reflect people’s changing eating habits, such as introducing lighter and healthier options including the Twister Wrap, rice and salad. "Over the past few years we’ve been working really hard to modernise the brand and continue to make it relevant," Farren said. "The rise of flexitarianism has become massive even over the past six to 12 months."
But KFC has also taken a sometimes tongue-in-cheek approach to food trends. In 2017, the brand trolled the clean-eating movement with a fake burger made from a cauliflower bun, spiralised chicken, almond yogurt and ice-cube relish, promoted by a fake food blogger called Figgy Poppleton-Rice. The campaign was actually for a real product that was the stark opposite of any clean-eating menu: the indulgent Dirty Louisiana burger, consisting of chicken, double cheese, a hash brown, Supercharger sauce, black pepper mayonnaise and BBQ sauce.