Stephen Jardine: KFC's chicken was even turned down by a charity

A few years back, I went out for dinner with friends in Inverness. One person wanted a curry, someone else wanted pasta and I was in the mood for fish and chips. Thankfully we all ended up happy after stumbling upon a so-called international restaurant.

KFC Meadowbank was among the stores closed after supplies of chicken ran out (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Perhaps KFC should dump their new delivery partner and hire the team behind that international eatery. They somehow managed to serve up pork, lamb, beef and fish from across five continents while the poor old Colonel can’t even get chicken to a restaurant serving only that.

As fails go, this one was epic. If you run a fast-food restaurant selling fried chicken you really just have one job. Get that wrong and your customers will be unforgiving. The problems started on Valentine’s Day when DHL became the new logistics partner responsible for getting raw poultry into KFC’s 900 stores. The new romance didn’t last long. Within 48 hours, problems started in the new IT system and warehouse operations. Add in a crash that closed the motorway outside the depot and you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm. By last weekend over half the company’s stores were forced to close because they had insufficient supplies of chicken. Five days later 200 branches were still shut.

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KFC closes restaurants after running out of chicken

Faced with a nightmare scenario, KFC initially played a crisis communications blinder flooding social media with good-natured messaging promising the chicken would get to cross the road and Colonel Sanders was sorting the problem personally. It was a brave attempt to ride out a corporate crisis but it didn’t cut much ice with fans of the brand. Some appeared on the verge of tears when interviewed outside padlocked branches. Others even called the police to register their complaints.

Strip away the madness and you have a chilling insight into the way fast food works. Snatched pictures from inside a warehouse in Warwickshire showed a space the size of a football pitch piled with poultry fast approaching its sell-by date. It couldn’t really have looked less appetising.

KFC is run on a franchise basis so some on social media asked why the enterprising fast food entrepreneurs holding a local license didn’t just buy from local suppliers and keep the doors open and customers happy. However their franchise agreement probably required them to use supplies from the central depot at pre-agreed prices. That is how big food works. Sensing the scale of the public relations crisis, KFC were quick to promise workers would be paid but it’s now emerged up to 10 per cent could lose out on what they normally earn.

To add final insult to injury, attempts to give away chicken still stuck in the warehouse failed. One charity which tackles hunger and food waste declined because “we only redistributes good-quality, in-date surplus food which has been stored in a robust way.”

KFC have confirmed disruption from this unmitigated disaster for a major global brand will continue this weekend. It has cost around a million pounds a day, but the real price paid will be damage to reputation and that could take many years to recover.