If the cooks at KFC know the recipe why don’t they start their own business?

Question
Mudassir Ali 9 months 1 Answer 137 views

Answer ( 1 )

  1. There are two problems here.

    First one, cooks at KFC do not know the actual recipe. From what I hear, all they have are couple of packets of seasoning mix with generic names, raw chicken, flour and other ordinary ingredients. They just clean the chicken pieces, cover it in the secret original breading recipe and fry them. It’s the seasoning mix that gives the fried chicken its signature taste and all they get is the ready-to-use mix. They don’t know how the secret seasoning mix is actually made.

    To put this in perspective, I assume you know what Maggi Noodles or Top Ramen are. They are instant noodles you can cook at home. It comes with a tastemaker that you add while making the noodles and it gives the noodles its taste. So every time you buy a packet of Maggi, you have access to their secret recipe – the tastemaker . Does that mean you can make something that would give the exact same taste as Maggi’s tastemaker?

    ​Apparently, this is how Coca-Cola keeps their secret recipe. Full article available here.

    Now even if you somehow got your hands on KFC’s actual recipe – say by pulling off an Oceans 11, sadly it wouldn’t really matter! Here’s where the second and most important hurdle lies. You see, for companies like KFC or Coca-Cola or Maggi (read Nestlé), their taste is not their only weapon. It is a big one, but not the ultimate one. Their biggest weapon is their brand name!

    ​The above image shows the comparison between actual preference and preference associated with brand name. Full article available here.

    A huge, huge number of people go to these stores not because (or may be I should say – not just because) of their products’ taste. Its because of their brand name. They go to these stores because they think that these brands are big and famous, ergo their products should taste the best. Or they feel that food would be safer and more hygienic. Or because the food is cheaper. Or a hundred other reasons related to the brand itself. It would be absurd to think that they opt for these brands because KFC has the best fried chicken in the entire world. Or because Coca-Cola makes the-best-carbonated-drinks on the planet. Same goes for PizzaHut, McDonalds, FritoLay, Nike, Apple, Samsung and pretty much every branded company that runs a chain in any business.

    To put that in perspective, say a company EffTheBrands (ETB), somehow figured out how to make smartphones exactly the way Apple makes it and started selling them for half the price. Now if you, a customer, – while browsing on Amazon for smartphones – came across Apple’s iPhone and ETB’s say uPhone, which one would you buy?

    Or say I found out how to make cokes exactly how Coca-Cola makes it. Which one would you pick up at a supermarket? Coca-Cola’s coke or the brand new EnerJi? Sorry – that’s the best name I could come up with! 🙂

    You get the gist. And it is for this same reason every Fried Chicken fails to take off and KFC keeps ruling the market. At this point, it would take a serious, intentional, widespread health related mess up from KFC’s side to make people look elsewhere for their fried chicken needs. The kind of mess up that made a dent on Maggi’s reign on Indian instant noodles market.

    In short, it is safe to say that KFC’s cooks starting their own fried chicken store is the least of KFC’s worries!

    ————— End of Original Answer —————

    Update [20151222]

    There are a few recurring questions in the comments section. For the benefit of anyone having the same doubts, I will address them below. A lot of them are about the seasoning mixes used by various companies. I do not have any first hand knowledge of the processes followed by any of these firms and the answers related to such questions are purely speculative.

    Jeyaganesh asks : How do they manufacture the seasoning mix? factory? In such case wont workers wont be aware?

    Considering the scale of operations, yes – the mixes should be made in a factory setting. But that doesn’t mean the workers would be aware of what they are making or adding or even who they are making the product for. If the process is highly spread out, one person would probably be involved in only one specific part of the manufacturing process and would hence be unaware of rest of the steps. Also, like with the cooks, all the worker might be told would be to add a the big packet labelled ‘X’ into the mixer at a particular time or temperature and then add another one labelled ‘Y’ and so on and so forth. More available here : KFC Original Recipe

    Photo of eleven unmarked vials of herbs that makes up the KFC Original Recipe

    Photo of the new vault in KFC’s Louisville headquarters which holds a copy of the recipe signed by Sanders and the eleven vials containing the herbs and spices. Apparently KFC is going with hide-in-plain-sight strategy as this nondescript vault is in the Legal Dept and every door in the building looks the same.

    Suma N D asks : Then why dont the people who make the seasoning start their own business?

    If such companies outsources the manufacturing process of their star product, chances are there would be extensive Non-Disclosure Agreements and Non-Compete Clauses in place with the outsourced company. Industrial Espionage is, of course, a big deal and are dealt with very seriously by everyone involved. All these firms have deep pockets which buys them the best attorneys who in turn could make things extremely difficult for both the outsourced company and its personnel. The laws & agreements are usually so stringent & complex that even whistleblowing – that is, exposing any illegal or incorrect activities – could make them vulnerable to huge lawsuits, let alone revealing trade secrets. Check out this page which has a short list of whistleblowers in both private and public sectors.

    Joseph Dedrick asked : so why doesn’t someone just take a bit of these ingredients, analyze them all and get it that way?

    There is a branch of chemistry called analytical chemistry which is used to analyze chemical components of materials. In the past, along with some insider information, this type of analysis has been used to duplicate things like adhesives. But it is extremely difficult and quite costly. Also, unlike almost purely chemical products like adhesives which only have a handful of major components, recipes are chemically speaking exceptionally complex with a huge number of chemicals involved in all kinds of combination. More on this available here : Why is the recipe of Coca Cola still a secret?

    Basavaraj B Vathar asks : What if I got the names of those classified herbs by any chance or if i got that same seasoning taste by mixing some herbs with trial and error. Then can’t I start my own seasoning outlet because only their mixture is classified not the herbals?

    There are two major terms related to Intellectual Property of a company – Patents and Trade Secrets. KFC Original Recipe has been marked as a Trade Secret and has not been patented. One of the reasons it is not patented is because patents have expiry dates – typically around 20 years from date of filing. Also, for filing a patent, the original material would have to be submitted at the Patent and Trademark Office. This makes the recipe more vulnerable to being leaked. Also, the office is required to publish the patent applications publicly after a short time period. And even before the patent expired, anyone could access this publicly-published description of the ingredients & process and modify it slightly to avoid liability.

    Trade secrets on the other hand has no expiry date. As long as the company can keep it a secret from the public, its theirs. Companies do not have to submit the details to Government officials or register it. Nor do they need any approvals and hence the effect is immediate. On the other hand, unlike with patent, if anyone analyzes the product and “reverse engineers” it independently and/or without any information obtained illegally, s/he is free to use the same. They can even patent it then and thereby even prevent the original manufacturer from using it any further

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