Harland Sanders was born in 1890 and raised on a farm outside Henryville, Indiana (near Louisville, Kentucky). When Sanders was five years old, his father died, forcing his mother to work at a canning plant. This left Sanders, as the eldest son, to care for his two younger siblings. After he reached seven years of age, his mother taught him how to cook. After leaving the family home at the age of 13, Sanders passed through several professions with mixed success.
In 1930, Sanders took over a Shell filling station on US Route 25 just outside North Corbin, Kentucky, a small town on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. It was here that he first served to travelers the recipes that he had learned as a child: fried chicken and other dishes such as steaks and country ham. After four years of serving from his own dining room table, Sanders purchased the larger filling station on the other side of the road and expanded to six tables. By 1936, this had proven successful enough for Sanders to be given the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel by Governor Ruby Laffoon. In 1937 he expanded his restaurant to 142 seats and added a motel he purchased across the street, naming it Sanders Court & Café.
Sanders was unhappy with the 35 minutes it took to prepare his chicken in an iron frying pan, but he refused to deep fry the chicken, which he believed lowered the quality of the product. If he pre-cooked the chicken in advance of orders, there was sometimes wastage at day's end. In 1939, the first commercial pressure cookers were released onto the market, mostly designed for steaming vegetables. Sanders bought one and modified it into a pressure fryer, which he then used to fry chicken. The new method reduced production time to be comparable with deep frying while, in the opinion of Sanders, retaining the quality of pan-fried chicken.
In July 1940, Sanders finalised what came to be known as his "Original Recipe" of 11 herbs and spices. Although he never publicly revealed the recipe, he said the ingredients included salt and pepper and that the rest "stand on everybody's shelf". After being recommissioned as a Kentucky Colonel in 1950 by Governor Lawrence Wetherby, Sanders began to dress the part, growing a goatee, wearing a black frock coat (later switched to a white suit) and a string tie and referring to himself as "the Colonel". His associates went along with the title change, "jokingly at first and then in earnest", according to biographer Josh Ozersky.
Colonel Sanders was a key component of KFC advertising until his death in 1980. Despite his death, Sanders remains a key icon of the company as an "international symbol of hospitality". Early official slogans for the company included "North America's Hospitality Dish" (from 1956) and "We fix Sunday dinner seven nights a week". The "finger lickin' good" slogan was used from 1956 and went on to become one of the best-known slogans of the 20th century. The trademark expired in the US in 2006. The first KFC logo was introduced in 1952 and featured a "Kentucky Fried Chicken" typeface and a logo of the Colonel. In 1962, Dave Thomas took Colonel Sanders' bucket and turned it into a sign that revolved in a circular motion in front of almost every American KFC outlet.
In 1952, Sanders franchised his recipe to his friend Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah, the operator of one of the city's largest restaurants. The Sanders Court & Café generally served travelers, so when the route planned in 1955 for Interstate 75 bypassed his properties, Sanders sold them and traveled the US to franchise his recipe to restaurant owners. Independent restaurants would pay four (later five) cents on each chicken as a franchise fee in exchange for Sanders' recipe and the right to feature it on their menus and use his name and likeness for promotional purposes.
KFC was founded by Colonel Harland Sanders (1890–1980), an entrepreneur who began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. Sanders identified the potential of the restaurant franchising concept and the first "Kentucky Fried Chicken" franchise opened in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1952. KFC popularized chicken in the fast-food industry, diversifying the market by challenging the established dominance of the hamburger. By branding himself as "Colonel Sanders", Harland became a prominent figure of American cultural history and his image remains widely used in KFC advertising to this day. However, the company's rapid expansion overwhelmed the aging Sanders and he sold it to a group of investors led by John Y. Brown Jr. and Jack C. Massey in 1964.
Don Anderson, a sign painter hired by Harman, coined the name "Kentucky Fried Chicken". For Harman, the addition of KFC was a way of differentiating his restaurant from competitors; a product from Kentucky was exotic and evoked imagery of Southern hospitality. Harman trademarked the phrase "It's finger lickin' good", which eventually became the company slogan. He also introduced the "bucket meal" in 1957 (14 pieces of chicken, five bread rolls and a pint of gravy in a cardboard bucket). Serving their signature meal in a paper bucket was to become an iconic feature of the company.
KFC's original product is pressure-fried chicken pieces, seasoned with Sanders' signature recipe of "11 herbs and spices". The constituents of the recipe are a trade secret. Larger portions of fried chicken are served in a cardboard "bucket", which has become a feature of the chain since it was first introduced by franchisee Pete Harman in 1957. Since the early 1990s, KFC has expanded its menu to offer other chicken products such as chicken fillet sandwiches and wraps, as well as salads and side dishes such as French fries and coleslaw, desserts and soft drinks; the latter often supplied by PepsiCo. KFC is known for its slogans "It's Finger Lickin' Good!", "Nobody does chicken like KFC" and "So good".
In 1964, Sanders sold KFC to a group of investors led by John Y. Brown Jr. and Jack C. Massey for US$2 million (around US$17 million in 2020). The contract included a lifetime salary for Sanders and the agreement that he would be the company's quality controller and trademark. The chain had reached 3,000 outlets in 48 countries by 1970. In July 1971, Brown sold the company to the Connecticut-based Heublein, a packaged food and drinks corporation, for US$285 million (around US$1.8 billion in 2020). Sanders died in 1980, his promotional work making him a prominent figure in American cultural history. By the time of his death, there were an estimated 6,000 KFC outlets in 48 countries worldwide, with $2 billion worth of sales annually.
With significant growth in tow, the fledgling Kentucky Fried Chicken decided in 1964 that they would begin offering franchise opportunities beyond the Atlantic, and landed on the United Kingdom as its entry point into Europe. As such, the first British KFC eatery opened its doors at 92 Fishergate in Preston, Lancashire, on May 1, 1965, and still operates today.
Advertising played a key role at KFC after it was sold by Sanders and the company began to advertise on US television with a budget of US$4 million in 1966. In order to fund nationwide advertising campaigns, the Kentucky Fried Chicken Advertising Co-Op was established, giving franchisees 10 votes and the company three when deciding on budgets and campaigns. In 1969, KFC hired its first national advertising agency, Leo Burnett. A notable Burnett campaign in 1972 was the "Get a bucket of chicken, have a barrel of fun" jingle, performed by Barry Manilow. By 1976, KFC was one of the largest advertisers in the US.
KFC initially used stove-top covered cooking pots to fry its chicken. In the 1960s, the officially recommended model was the L S Hartzog developed "KFC 20-Head Cooker", a large device that cost $16,000. The Hartzog model had no oil filtration system, meaning that filtering had to be done manually, and the pressure fryers occasionally exploded often harming employees. In 1969, inventor and engineer Winston L. Shelton developed the "Collectramatic" pressurized fryer to overcome the problems KFC faced in quickly frying chicken to meet growing customer demand. The Collectramatic used precision time and temperature controls and self-filtered the cooking oil – all while meeting Colonel Sanders' high standards. Fred Jeffries, then vice president of purchasing at KFC, claimed that the invention helped fuel the company's rapid expansion and success:
Pat Grace met with Sanders at his holiday home in near Toronto and agreed to franchise the brand in Ireland. In 1970 Grace returned to Ireland after a number of years in Canada to open his first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Phibsboro shopping centre in Dublin. Eventually he opened another six restaurants located in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. After disagreements over cost cutting with KFC management in the early 1980s, the Irish restaurants were renamed to Pat Grace's Famous Fried Chicken reportedly retaining the original recipe. These stores were closed in the late 1980s. Pat Grace went on to wholesale the chicken spice blend under the brand Grace's Perfect Blend.
In 1982, Heublein was acquired by R. J. Reynolds, the tobacco giant. In July 1986, Reynolds announced the sale of KFC to PepsiCo for $850 million (around US$2.0 billion in 2020). The actual sale took place in early October for $840 million. PepsiCo made the chain a part of its restaurants division alongside Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. KFC entered the Chinese market in November 1987, with an outlet in Beijing.
KFC was one of the first American fast-food chains to expand internationally, opening outlets in Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Jamaica by the mid-1960s. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it experienced mixed fortunes domestically, as it went through a series of changes in corporate ownership with little or no experience in the restaurant business. In the early 1970s, KFC was sold to the spirits distributor Heublein, which was taken over by the R. J. Reynolds food and tobacco conglomerate; that company sold the chain to PepsiCo. The chain continued to expand overseas, however, and in 1987 it became the first Western restaurant chain to open in China. It has since expanded rapidly in China, which is now the company's single largest market. PepsiCo spun off its restaurants division as Tricon Global Restaurants, which later changed its name to Yum! Brands.
In 1991, the KFC name was officially adopted, although it had already been widely known by that initialism. Kyle Craig, president of KFC U.S., admitted the change was an attempt to distance the chain from the unhealthy connotations of "fried". The early 1990s saw a number of successful major product launches, including spicy "Hot Wings" (launched in 1990), popcorn chicken (1992) and, internationally, the "Zinger", a spicy chicken fillet sandwich (1993). By 1994 KFC had 5,149 outlets in the US and 9,407 overall, with over 100,000 employees. In August 1997, PepsiCo spun off its restaurants division as a public company valued at US$4.5 billion (around US$7.3 billion in 2020). The new company was named Tricon Global Restaurants and, at the time, had 30,000 outlets and annual sales of US$10 billion (around US$16 billion in 2020), making it second in the world only to McDonald's. Tricon was renamed Yum! Brands in May 2002.
In 1999, a couple who bought the house formerly occupied by Colonel Sanders found scribbled notes purported to be the secret recipe. Initially, KFC wanted to file a lawsuit against the couple to stop an auction of the notes but, by early 2001, it dropped the lawsuit, claiming the scribbled notes are "nowhere close" to the original recipe.
In 2006, Greenpeace accused KFC Europe of sourcing the soya bean for its chicken feed from Cargill, which had been accused of clearing large swathes of the Amazon rainforest in order to grow the crop.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, fast food has been criticized for its animal welfare record, its links to obesity and its environmental impact. Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation (2002) and Morgan Spurlock's film Super Size Me (2004) reflected these concerns. Since 2003, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has protested KFC's choice of poultry suppliers worldwide. The exception is KFC Canada, which signed an agreement pledging to only use "animal-friendly" suppliers. President of KFC's US division Gregg Dedrick said PETA mischaracterized KFC as a poultry producer rather than a purchaser of chickens. In 2008, Yum! stated: "[As] a major purchaser of food products, [Yum!] has the opportunity and responsibility to influence the way animals supplied to us are treated. We take that responsibility very seriously, and we are monitoring our suppliers on an ongoing basis."
Launched in 2009, the Krusher/Krushem range of frozen beverages containing "real bits" such as Kit Kat, Oreo and strawberry shortcake is available in over 2,000 outlets. Egg custard tart is a popular dessert worldwide, but other items include ice cream sundaes and tres leches cake in Peru.
In 2010, according to The Guardian, "in the US where fried chicken remains closely associated with age-old racist stereotypes about black people in the once segregated south", KFC Australia aired the 30-second promotion on television named "KFC's cricket survival guide" which shows a cricket fan surrounded by fans from the opposing team. The television announcer asks, "Need a tip when you're stuck in an awkward situation?" The fan passes around his "bucket of KFC", even though the commercial was intended for an Australian audience, which found its way to social media in the United States, prompting sharp disapproval. KFC Australia made a statement to the fact the commercial was "misinterpreted by a segment of people in the US" and it was a "light-hearted reference to the West Indian cricket team" and "The ad was reproduced online in the US without KFC's permission, where we are told a culturally-based stereotype exists, leading to the incorrect assertion of racism...We unequivocally condemn discrimination of any type and have a proud history as one of the world's leading employers for diversity".
On March 31, 2011, Priszm, owner of KFC in Canada, went into bankruptcy protection in Ontario and British Columbia.
In 2012, the "KFC AM" breakfast menu began to be rolled out internationally, including such items as pancakes, waffles and porridge, as well as fried chicken.
In May 2012, Greenpeace accused KFC of sourcing paper pulp for its food packaging from Indonesian rainforest wood. Independent forensic tests showed that some packaging contained more than 50 percent mixed tropical hardwood fiber, sourced from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). APP said such fiber can be found in recycled paper, or: "It can also come from tree residues that are cleared, after a forest area has become degraded, logged-over or burned, as part of a sustainable development plan. APP has strict policies and practices in place to ensure that only residues from legal plantation development on degraded or logged-over forest areas and sustainable wood fiber enters the production supply chain." KFC said: "From a global perspective, 60 percent of the paper products that Yum! (our parent company) sources are from sustainable sources. Our suppliers are working towards making it 100 percent."
In December 2012, the chain was criticized in China when it was discovered that a number of KFC suppliers had been using growth hormones and an excessive amount of antibiotics on its poultry in ways that violated Chinese law. In February 2013, Yum! CEO David Novak admitted that the scandal had been "longer lasting and more impactful than we ever imagined." The issue is of major concern to Yum!, which earns almost half of its profits from China, largely through the KFC brand. In March 2013, Yum! reported that sales had rebounded in February, but that lower sales in December and January would result in a decline in same-store sales of 20 percent in the first quarter.
KFC is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, one of the largest restaurant companies in the world. KFC had sales of $23 billion in 2013. KFC is incorporated under Delaware General Corporation Law, and has its headquarters at 1441 Gardiner Lane, Louisville, Kentucky, in a three-story colonial style building known colloquially as the "White House" due to its resemblance to the US president's home. The headquarters contain executive offices and the company's research and development facilities.
By 2015, KFC was struggling, having lost business to other retailers and being surpassed by Chick-fil-A as the leading chicken retailer in the US three years previously. The company launched a new initiative with a plan to revamp its packaging, decor and uniforms and expand its menu. Additionally, beginning in May 2015, a new series of US advertisements was launched featuring Darrell Hammond as Colonel Sanders. In a planned rotation of actors, Norm Macdonald, Jim Gaffigan, George Hamilton and Rob Riggle portrayed Sanders in similar ads through the fall of 2016. In January 2018, country music icon Reba McEntire played the first female Colonel Sanders.
Joe Ledington of Kentucky, a nephew by marriage of Colonel Sanders, claimed to have found a copy of the original KFC fried chicken recipe on a handwritten piece of paper in an envelope in a scrapbook. In August 2016, Chicago Tribune staffers conducted a cooking test of this recipe and claimed after a few attempts that, with the addition of the MSG flavor-enhancer Ac'cent, they produced fried chicken which tasted "indistinguishable" from the chicken they purchased at KFC.
In 2017, KFC was fined £950,000 after two workers in the UK were scalded by boiling hot gravy. The company admitted to charges of failing in a duty of care to employees and was ordered by Teesside Crown Court in Middlesbrough to pay fines of £800,000 and £150,000.
In February 2018, logistics mismanagement by DHL, which had been selected by KFC UK as their new delivery partner, caused a chicken shortage in the United Kingdom – KFC's largest market in Europe – forcing the company to temporarily close hundreds of restaurants around the country. KFC apologized by taking out adverts in British newspapers showing the company's initials rearranged to read "FCK", followed by an apology, which was well received.
Australia rebranded KFC back to its original name, "Kentucky Fried Chicken" in 2019.
On August 27, 2019, KFC tested meatless boneless wings and nuggets in Atlanta, Georgia.
KFC (also commonly referred to by its historical name Kentucky Fried Chicken) is an American fast food restaurant chain headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, that specializes in fried chicken. It is the world's second-largest restaurant chain (as measured by sales) after McDonald's, with 22,621 locations globally in 150 countries as of December 2019 . The chain is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, a restaurant company that also owns the Pizza Hut and Taco Bell chains.
In December 2020, KFC revealed the KFConsole, a new gaming console with a "Chicken Chamber" to keep food warm.
Before leaving as CEO in 2021, Andrea Zahumensky told Ad Age the "brand assets that we're so lucky to have" were the bucket, the three stripes and the full name Kentucky Fried Chicken. All of these were being used more by the chain.
In November 2021, Finland's first KFC restaurant was opened at the Itis shopping center in Itäkeskus, Helsinki. A few days before the opening day, a tent had appeared in front of the restaurant, where a man who had kept his identity secret for a few days had stayed, and who on the opening day revealed himself to the public as a vegan activist defending animal rights. After trying to give his speech to those present, the security company carried him away. Even before the opening of the restaurant, in October, news of a controversy over the procurement of a broiler for food from Poland; the cause is mainly related to the risk of salmonella in broilers, which is a significant problem in Poland, whereas its prevalence in Finland is low.
On November 9, 2022, KFC Germany issued an announcement inviting its German audience to celebrate Kristallnacht with "Cheesy Chicken". An apology was issued shortly afterwards, blaming the original message as "error in our system".
In February 2023, Kentucky Fried Chicken in Australia announced that several items would no longer be sold in their menu, including wings, popcorn chicken, Nashville hot sauce and strawberry lemonade.
In early 2022 a promotional video was shot with influencer Niko Omilana showing a chicken farm in the KFC supply chain. The video depicted birds with a good quality of life. Animal rights activists entered the same farm months later and found vastly different conditions, with instances of "severe overcrowding" and "lame and dead birds". Paul Roger, a vet and founder member of AWSELVA, said birds in the footage were exhibiting "behavioural signs of stress such as feather pecking and topical skin infection". KFC's actions were branded "misleading".