When you get a chance to sit down with someone who really knows her KFC, there’s one question a certified fried chicken foodie should be asking: What exactly are those 11 herbs and spices in the Colonel’s secret recipe?
“To be fair, even I don’t know the secret blend of herbs and spices!" said Lynette Lee, KFC Singapore’s general manager, with a smile. “Nobody does."
“We have a global supplier who produces the spices and it arrives in powder form in two or three different packages, which we then mix together. So no one single person or party knows all the 11 herbs and spices. Only Colonel Sanders does!”
Fine. We're going to stick to the Instagram theory that the recipe includes five Spice Girls and six guys named Herb.
And dig further into that rumour that it’s not “real chicken” in that KFC bucket. More on that in a bit.
FROM KENTUCKY TO KEMBANGAN
The American fried chicken chain opened its first store in Singapore at Somerset Road back in 1977. And judging by the zi char favourite cereal chicken on the menu today, the Colonel from Kentucky seems to have assimilated quite well to our little Lah Lah Land in the time he’s been here.
In fact, there is someone in Singapore with one of the best jobs available, in our opinion: A food innovation manager who looks out for what might be trending on our plates. According to Lee, KFC Singapore is given free rein to come up with all sorts of ideas “as long as we don’t do beef and keep with the terms of a halal restaurant”.
Which is how, in response to the mala craze, they ended up with their own mala chicken.
Of course, competition is fierce with other local fast-food competitors coming up with Singapore-specific specials on a regular basis.
“The key differentiator is that we do chicken,” said Lee. “And our innovation has always been focused on our core product – what we call ‘chicken on the bone’. What we also do differently is to have a mix of both local and international flavours, depending on the occasion."
“For example, for National Day this year, we came out with cereal chicken. But for Chinese New Year, we wanted to be a little bit cheeky,” she continued. “Instead of your usual Chinese New Year food, you got truffle chicken, which is a bit of a Western concept. And we did it during Chinese New Year to help break out of the clutter.”
For the record, KFC Singapore's all-time bestseller when it comes to off-menu specials is the salted egg Goldspice Chicken, which sold out within weeks of its debut back in July 2018. It has since been brought back due to popular demand and a slew of customer requests via social platforms, along with Hot Devil Drumlets and Red Hot Sichuan Chicken.
“We run both the concept as well as the actual product with a test group, so as to make sure that these are what the customers want. It's important because I don’t want to launch a product just because the general manager or the marketing person likes it,” said the general manager.
"So, yes, we do listen."
Listening to their customers also means they know how Singaporeans would love to be gifted a free car. Ordering that Cereal Chicken meal gives customers a chance to win a Mercedes-Benz A-Class and S$488 daily cash prizes. The contest ends on Aug 9.
THANKS, UNCLE CHING KING
If you were to pop by the KFC store at Causeway Point, you might see a smiling elderly man, chatting with diners as he wipes down the tables. That would be 83-year-old Uncle Ching King – KFC Singapore’s oldest employee.
According to Lee, 10 per cent of the company’s workforce is above the age of 62.
"I think it's important that we have different job roles for different age groups," she shared. "As everyone knows, the F&B industry goes through this huge labour crunch and Singapore is an ageing population. So, thankfully, we have a huge group of the older generation who are willing to work. It's a significant number, and they form a very, very important part of our workforce."
KFC Singapore also believes in inclusivity, which means they are "happy to take anybody who wants to work". And to celebrate their diverse staff, new uniforms were unveiled in June.
It’s about “empowering our staff and making them feel good”, said Lee of the new looks created by local designer Thomas Wee. “I think it helps them feel like the company is taking care of them. So they look good and feel great. And if you feel good, you will treat the customer better.”
It was also important that they worked with a Singapore designer, she added, as it’s about celebrating the community that KFC has prospered in.
BUT IS IT REAL CHICKEN?
Of course, when all is said and done, fancy new clothes and salted egg seasoning can only get you so far in the competitive world of F&B in Singapore. Sometimes an 89-year-old fried chicken chain simply needs to do what it has always done best.
Earlier this year, the company launched its first open-concept restaurant in Southeast Asia at Tampines Mall called The Tank, where customers can get a no-holds-barred look at the work that goes into making their signature fried chicken.
“We are very proud of our heritage, and we want to showcase how our food is prepared,” said Lee. “You can look into the kitchen and see real cooks preparing the chicken. And it’s not a staged show, because that is exactly where they cook the food that is going to be served.”
According to Lee, The Tank has proven to be a “big hit” with customers. And, yes, that is real chicken in the fryer.
In fact, launching The Tank has helped debunk the myth that KFC doesn’t use fresh chicken.
“Yes, the surprising thing is that a lot of customers did not know that we use fresh chicken which is cooked in-store every day,” said Lee. “It's not prepared in some kitchen in the US, shipped over to us and then we re-fry it. Nope, it’s freshly prepared in-store every day.”
In fact, according to Lee, the chicken is sourced from Singapore suppliers.
“The chicken is raised in Malaysia, imported into Singapore and then slaughtered and prepared in Singapore itself,” she said. The chicken is then marinated and delivered to stores on a daily basis.
So what does the future hold for KFC 42 years after opening its doors in Singapore?
“I think fried chicken will be here to stay for the next 42 years,” replied Lee. “Despite the healthier choices, I think customers know how to balance their lifestyle. And because we offer signature tastes that nobody else can offer, people will continue to come back.”