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'Marketplace' Report: KFC and the Pope

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'Marketplace' Report: KFC and the Pope

Business

'Marketplace' Report: KFC and the Pope

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.

And in honor of Lent, fast food giant KFC is adding fish to its menu for the first time nationwide. It's asking for a little marketing help from an unlikely source, the Vatican.

Marketplace's Amy Scott joins us now. Hi, Amy, and explain this. KFC is actually asking for the pope's blessing on this?

AMY SCOTT: Yes, it is. The president of KFC himself sent a letter to the Vatican asking Pope Benedict XVI to bless the company's new fish snacker sandwich. AS you know, a lot of Catholics give up meat on Fridays during Lent, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and fish is a popular substitute. So the company is trying to capitalize on this by asking for sort of a papal seal of approval.

BRAND: Okay, well, maybe the pope doesn't have anything better to do than to bless a fish sandwich. But I wondering, is there a precedent for the sort of thing?

SCOTT: Well, actually, the makers of Viagra, did something similar several years back. Pfizer asked the pope to sort of reassure Catholics that the sexual dysfunction drug did not violate the church's teachings.

Another fast food chicken restaurant, Chick Fillet, closes on Sundays to observe the Sabbath, and its CEO holds weekly prayer meetings with employees.

But I talked to someone who follows religion in the workplace. Ian Mitroff is professor emeritus at the Marshall School of Business. He says he couldn't think of another instance quite like this, and he says this is really about marketing.

Mr. IAN MITROFF (Marshall School of Business): The fact that I have to stretch and one doesn't come immediately to mine, yeah, I think that's the point of people who are clever about marketing, because they're always looking for something new. But beware that, you know, you really do attract too much of the wrong kind of attention.

SCOTT: That's possibly because less in a quarter of the U.S. population identifies as Catholic, so on one hand, you know, KFC risks offending that other three-quarters. But also, you know, some Catholics maybe a little uncomfortable with this attempt to invoke the Holy See to basically sell a product.

BRAND: Well, what does the Vatican say about this?

SCOTT: Well, so far we haven't heard any comments, and one Vatican expert I talked to said he couldn't imagine the pope endorsing a commercial product. But this is a new pope and people are still getting used to his style. Just a few weeks ago he caused a bit of a stir by saying in an offhand comment that even the saints had sins. He got a lot of applause, actually, from the crowd he was speaking to, but then the Vatican omitted the line from its official transcript.

So you know, people say you never know. Maybe he'll surprise us by maybe endorsing sort of generically the idea of eating fish, which might give KFC a boost.

BRAND: All right. Thank you, Amy. Amy Scott of Public Radio's daily business show, MARKETPLACE; that's produced by American Public Media.

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