By Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — KFC has cooked up another free offer to promote its grilled chicken, only this time, it promises, without the unwanted side of rainchecks.
The freebie is set for Monday, when more than 5,000 KFCs will give every U.S. customer a free piece of grilled chicken.
This will be the third time in six months that the chain famous for fried chicken is offering a giveaway to promote its Kentucky Grilled Chicken that debuted nationally last spring.
KFC's latest freebie will be minus Oprah Winfrey's star power from a May giveaway and, KFC President Roger Eaton promises, without the snafus when a free grilled chicken coupon on Oprah's Web site overwhelmed the chain, with some stores running out of the meals.
"Obviously, we had to deal with some tough stuff," Eaton said.
Still, KFC sees that May promotion, problems and all, as a net success. "We were the talk of the town," Eaton said.
This time, things will be orderly and efficient, he promised. "We gear the shifts up so we make sure we've got the staffing, we make sure we've got the chicken," Eaton said.
Conrad Lyon, a restaurant equity analyst with Global Hunter Securities, said the giveaways reflect a hyper-competitive fast-food sector where price is the biggest draw.
"It comes down to getting those bodies in the door," he said.
The newest offer is identical to KFC's first grilled chicken giveaway — a one-day-only offer in April when KFC handed out more than 4 million pieces to launch the product. That chicken handout went smoothly, company officials said.
KFC executives are pinning hopes on grilled chicken to build stronger U.S. sales by winning over health-conscious consumers turned off by the chain's fried offerings.
KFC is a part of Louisville-based Yum Brands Inc.
This month, Yum Chairman and CEO David C. Novak told industry analysts that grilled chicken gave KFC a badly needed "shot in the arm." He said grilled chicken accounts for more than 30% of KFC's domestic sales.
Still, KFC had a 2% drop in sales at stores open at least a year in the third quarter ending Sept. 5.
Larry Miller, a restaurant analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said the sales mix for grilled chicken was high for a new product but KFC's last-quarter performance was disappointing. He said grilled chicken "needs to drive the overall business, otherwise they're not going to be any better off."
"I think people still think it's fried chicken first and not grilled chicken," he said.
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