Bowled Over by KFC's Latest Offering You've probably seen The KFC Famous Bowl advertised. It blends mashed potatoes, corn, chicken and gravy. Is it just another fast-food item or a window into the mind -- and gut -- of the American eater?
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Bowled Over by KFC's Latest Offering

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Bowled Over by KFC's Latest Offering

Bowled Over by KFC's Latest Offering

Bowled Over by KFC's Latest Offering

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You've probably seen The KFC Famous Bowl advertised. It blends mashed potatoes, corn, chicken and gravy. Is it just another fast-food item or a window into the mind — and gut — of the American eater?

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY I'M Madeleine Brand. Maybe on this Independence Day you've packed a picnic lunch: mashed potatoes, corn, fried chicken. Or maybe you've let multi-national fast food restaurant KFC pack it for you. Mike Pesca reports on the KFC Famous Bowl, a menu item that tells us a bit about where we are as a nation of consumers.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

A few weeks ago KFC, which once stood for Kentucky Fried Chicken and now stands for just KFC, was sued by the CSPI which still does stand for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The President, of that group said in a statement, Transfat is almost everywhere on this menu. By frying in such a dangerous oil, KFC is making its making its unsuspecting consumers arteries extra crispy.

A few weeks earlier, KFC introduced a menu item which was also something of a statement. The KFC Famous Bowl: potatoes under chicken under corn under gravy, all topped with a three cheese blend.

(Soundbite of KFC commercial)

Unidentified Man (Actor): Crispy chicken?

CROWD: (Unintelligible) with gravy!

Unidentified Man (Actor): I thought we were talking about layers.

CROWD: New cheesy chicken mashed potato bowl!

Unidentified Man (Actor): Oh, from KFC!

Unidentified Announcer: Introducing the brand new cheesy chicken mashed potato bowls from KFC. Freshly prepared with our famous mashed potatoes.

PESCA: That was actually the hold music as I waited to talk to James O'Reilly, KFC's V.P. of Marketing. O'Reilly says their corn on top of chicken on top of potatoes confection was the result of careful market research.

Mr. JAMES O'REILLY (Vice President of Marketing): The real design and the real beauty of this product is you get all those layers of flavor together in one product.

PESCA: Layers of flavor together turned out to be a theme O'Reilly return to.

Mr. O'REILLY: The real key of it in it is the layers of all the flavors together in one product.

In this one it was all the different flavors together in one product.

It really was born out of given them all of those great flavors together.

PESCA: Eight times in a thirteen minute interview, O'Reilly referenced layers of flavor. I had to get away from the corporate office and into an actual restaurant. Dion Sing manages the New Rochelle, New York KFC, and he said the bowls were great for sales.

(Soundbite of KFC restaurant)

PESCA: He immediately got on my good side by not using the phrase layers of flavor together.

Mr. DION SING (KFC Manager, New Rochelle, New York): I'm personally up 12% in sells right now for the month of June. So it's really kicking in sales. I mean customers are just going crazy for it. On an average I'm doing 95 bowls on a daily basis.

PESCA: Nutritionally speaking, Sing says sometimes consumers who are coming from the gym order a Famous Bowl, no cheese. If fact the bowls are the most highly caloric item on the KFC menu, with 4.5 grams of transfat, the precise ingredient that the CSPI sued KFC over in the first place. As for taste, well, this is subjective, but I like my food compartmentalized. So the layers of flavor quickly turn into a mush of flavor. To me.

PESCA: But on the way out of KFC I met a woman who spent $20 to feed herself and four children with 16 pieces of chicken and sides of potato and gravy. Why not opt for the Famous Bowl, I asked Cecilia Martinez(ph)?

Ms. CECILIA MARTINEZ (KFC Consumer): But I haven't tried it yet, but it's too many starches.

PESCA: But isn't this mostly the same ingredients? Just in same separate containers?

MS. MARTINEZ: But at home I have vegetables.

PESCA: So this is the way you could be the good mom and portion out what they get.

MS. MARTINEZ: Exactly, and give them the vegetables too.

PESCA: So while the KFC pitchmen were relentlessly on message with their layers of flavors mantra, I think they may have missed out a marketing opportunity. Had they thrown a couple of green beans on top of the three cheese blend, they'd of cornered the concerned market as well. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

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