Earlier this year McDonalds rebranded 13 of its stores in Tokyo locations, such as Shibuya and Roppongi, giving the inside and outside appearance of the stores a facelift, perhaps to better match their swankier Japanese surroundings. More recently, Nikkei Trendy is reporting that Kentucky Fried Chicken is undergoing a more drastic rebranding of its own, pitting the Colonel and his Christmas chicken giant against Ronald McDonald’s fast food empire.
The first KFC restaurant debuted in Japan in November 1970 in Nagoya and quickly gained popularity, riding a boom in Western culture that can be partially attributed to the Expo ’70, the World’s Fair held in Osaka. Since then KFC in Japan has become strongly connected with Christmas, thanks to a 1974 marketing campaign that was inspired by a group of foreigners who, unable to find turkey, decided to celebrate Christmas dinner with fried chicken.
KFC in Japan has long been forced to innovate to survive the cut-throat fast-food industry. With this new marketing campaign, however, KFC clearly wants wants to tap into the health-conscious market of women and young people. The centerpiece of their experimental “next generation” menu, available only at the Shibuya location, is Oven Roasted Chicken. Advertising material eschews french fries, giving the option instead of salad and tea. Included is a marinade sauce heavy on bell peppers. In addition to a variety of salads, the menu also includes a Brazer (ブレイザー) chicken fillet sandwich, a broccoli chicken roll and an avocado shrimp sandwich. This move to healthier fare is ironic given that the U.S. KFC is currently hawking the Double Down, a sandwich that replaces bread with two cuts of fried chicken.
Nikkei Trendy seems impressed with the new items and equally so with the décor, which is sleek and chic, not unlike the McDonalds changes. While the main opponent of KFC may be McDonald’s, the company might be best advised to look closely at the marketing campaigns of Subway. The sandwich maker has firmly established the fact that in Japan, Subway is about vegetables. The company name is always given as “Subway (of vegetables)” (野菜のSubway), and their slogan is “Put vegetables into every day” (毎日に野菜をはさもう). It is unlikely, however, that KFC’s changes will be able to match Subway’s commitment to freshness: On July 6, the company opened a new location called the Yasai Lab Marunouchi Building in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo. The “Lab” will feature organic vegetables grown hyrdoponically on-site. Fresh veggies from the in-store gardens will be available starting in October.
The Shibuya-dori KFC location will debut the new menu on Friday, July 9.