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Fast Food

KFC executive says chain going through 're-Colonelization'

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Kentucky Fried Chicken is channeling Colonel Sanders to revive its business. (AP)

Kentucky Fried Chicken is channeling Colonel Sanders to revive its business.

For years, the chain's sales slumped as rivals like Chick-fil-A thrived. But parent company Yum Brands Inc., which also owns Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, says KFC's sales at established locations have now climbed for six straight quarters.

The company attributes the improvements in part to its ad campaign, featuring comedians Darrell Hammond and Norm Macdonald playing its bespectacled founder.

Here's what Kevin Hochman, KFC's chief marketing officer for the U.S., said in an interview:

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Q: Do millennials eat at KFC?

A: Our data says three out of five millennials have never tried KFC. One of the challenges of selling to millennials is they're generally distrustful of advertising.

Young people are growing up with distrust in institutions, distrust in big brands. It makes it very difficult to sell in conventional ways that might have worked for my generation or my parents' generation.

Q: What does that mean for KFC?

A: The colonel was the consummate chicken salesman. We're bringing back that over-the-top chicken salesman because millennials understand the joke. They get that we're running toward the idea of over-the-top selling.

Q: Do millennials know who Colonel Sanders is?

A: Many of them don't know he was a real person. They certainly don't know the values he stood for. He had a manifesto called the hard way. It was about being committed and not cutting corners. We think those values are tremendously interesting to millennials.

Q: Does KFC's food need freshening up?

A: Absolutely. We've got to make sure our original recipe is as good as it was 30 years ago when the colonel was alive. We've gone through what we call re-Colonelization.

Everyone knows the story where the colonel fell out with the corporation. But people don't know he reconciled with the corporation. The corporation brought him back in to help us get our standards right. And he branded it re-Colonelization.

Q: What's an example of re-Colonelization?

A: The colonel wanted no bald spots on his chicken. When you're hand breading chicken, and you're doing a lot fast, you could have a bald spot. So you've got to make sure you inspect each piece. And if there's extra breading you've got to tap it together.

Q: What about menu changes?

A: We've got to adjust. When I was growing up, the entire category was chicken on the bone. Nuggets were just getting invented by McDonald's. Things have completely changed.

Chicken on the bone is only 18 percent of the category. Strips and nuggets are about 30 percent. Sandwiches are 40 percent. So 70 percent of the market is strips, nuggets and sandwiches — which we don't have much of a presence in.