LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Col. Harland Sanders is shedding his white suit jacket for a red cook's apron as the company he founded unveils a worldwide redesign of its KFC restaurants and one of the world's most recognizable icons.
The company unveiled a new brand logo Tuesday that includes bolder colors and a more well-defined visage of the late Kentucky Fried Chicken founder, who will keep his classic black bow tie, glasses and goatee.
As part of publicity for the new logo, KFC commissioned a giant, 87,000-square foot version of it that can be seen from space. The massive logo consists of 65,000 1-foot square painted tiles that were laid out in the Nevada desert over 24 days.
"This change gives us a chance not only to make sure we stay relevant but also communicates to customers the realness of Colonel Sanders and the fact that he was a chef," said Gregg Dedrick, president of KFC's U.S. division.
The logo is changing for only the fourth time in 50 years, and for the first time in nearly a decade. The smiling Colonel is featured against a red background that matches his red apron, with the KFC brand name in black thick lettering under his chin.
The store designs will include new graphics with the Kentucky Fried Chicken name and signs that read, "Finger Lickin' Good," and "11 Secret Herbs and Spices," references to the Colonel's famously secret recipe.
The logo will also replace the old one on another KFC icon, its chicken bucket.
Newly built stores throughout the world will be upgraded over the next 12 months, the company said. Television ads with the new logo will begin in January, and the new logo is already on KFC's web site. KFC is owned by Yum Brands Inc. (YUM), a Louisville, Ky.-based restaurant company that is also the parent of Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.
"Eventually this will make its way to every restaurant," Dedrick said. "Any new stores we build or any remodels that we make from here on out will include the new Colonel."
The company said the new restaurants in the U.S. will include warmer interior colors, open shop-style glass windows and a digital jukebox that plays customer-selected music for free.
The new designs will go into international stores, including KFC's booming restaurants in China, where the company is opening more than one new restaurant every day, said Amy Sherwood, a Yum spokeswoman. There are currently 14,000 KFC restaurants worldwide and 1,700 in China.
The KFC brand is wildly popular there, but that doesn't mean the restaurants and the Colonel Sanders logo shouldn't be updated, said Sam Su, president of Yum's China division.
"We will not hesitate to bring change to the brand if it will enhance the offering to the consumers," Su said in a phone interview from Shanghai. "Consumers are asking for continuous innovation and the reason we have such a strong brand is our willingness to innovate."
Graham Allan, president of Yum's international restaurant division, said many people don't realize that Sanders existed and started the company on his own. The new logo hearkens back to the Colonel's days as a cook and entrepreneur, he said.
"The thing that's distinct about the Colonel is that he was a real person, he did spend time in the kitchen, he did develop the original recipe himself, and I think what this logo does is reinforce that in a very simple but dramatic way," he said.
Sanders introduced his Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe at his own restaurant in 1939 and went on to run a chain of chicken eateries. He sold the company in 1964, but became a celebrity as a result of the commercials and personal appearances he made for the chain until shortly before his death at the age of 90.
Sanders was known to shed his white, double-breasted suit to don an apron when he worked in the company kitchen, his former assistant said.
"The Colonel was so happy when he was down in the test kitchen," said Shirley Topmiller, who worked for Sanders in Louisville for 10 years until his death in 1980. "He loved to get down there and work — and he did wear an apron."