Fast food chicken franchising has come a long way from 1939, when Colonel Harlan Sanders introduced Kentucky Fried Chicken. Since then, brands like Church's, Chester's, and Popeyes have spread the gospel of fried chicken not only across the continent, but across the world. Fried chicken has become American as apple pie, and everybody wants a piece.
Nearly 70 years after the Colonel first offered his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, you can get chicken in all sizes, shapes, and flavors: wings, grilled, breaded, extra spicy, extra crunchy; in a bucket, in a taco or burrito, on a bun, on a salad, in a sub; flame-grilled, roasted, rotisseried, baked, broasted, toasted, and popcorned.
According to the USDA, per capita consumption of chicken of all types in the U.S. continues to rise, from 68.4 pounds in 1993 to 81.5 pounds in 2003 to an estimated 86.8 pounds in 2005 and a forecasted 100 pounds in 2015.
But even the Colonel, after decades of success, has had to change with the times as Americans dreamed of slimmer waistline and demanded healthier foods: in the early 1990s, the company changed its name to KFC, hoping to bury the word “fried” in the annals of the past.
Wings also caught fire in the 1990s, as brands including Wing Zone, Wingstop, Wingman, Wings Pizza N Things, Wings Over, and more competed for customers-and bragging rights for who has the most original, spiciest, juiciest, tastiest, most tender wings.
Today chicken is all about grilled and ethnic, as regional concepts like El Pollo Loco spread their brand across the country. Southern California-based El Pollo Loco, with its flame-grilled chicken, is in the midst of a major nationwide expansion, signing area development agreements in Chicago, New England, northern California, and Washington.
And chicken is coming into the U.S. as well, from both north and south. The Canadians are coming in the form of 40-year-old Dixie Lee, which plans to continue its expansion into the U.S. And from the south, Guatemala-based Pollo Campero, with 150 units in seven Latin American countries, is already in the U.S., and has big plans for China in 2006.
Chicken franchising also has gone global, and the pace is accelerating. KFC has already established itself as the leading chicken franchise brand in China. Bojangles opened in Honduras in 2003, China in 2005, and has plans to open 10 units in Mexico starting in mid-2006. According to Eric Newman, Bojangles' executive vice president, chicken is the meat of choice (over hamburgers) in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. He says the company's goal is to have 15 to 20 percent of its units in foreign markets.
Popeyes, too, has a strong international presence, with more than 1,800 restaurants in the U.S. and 27 international markets including Puerto Rico, Japan, Germany, Korea, the U.K., Mexico, Panama, Honduras, Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Guam, Canada, and Jordan. Church's, with more than 1,500 locations worldwide in 16 countries, has announced a plan to award development agreements for 150 new U.S. and 950 international restaurants within the next year. Perhaps you'll be one.