How KFC’s chicken shortage went from a joke to a nightmare

Why do our hearts feel so bad?

KFC’s chicken shortage started out as a hilarious mishap, but quickly mutated into a full on disaster – with the serious issue of potentially large quantities of chicken going to waste. How can a chain, whose primary function is to sell chicken, run out of chicken? To help you digest, we’ve created a timeline of events – divided up into bitesize nuggets – on how this year’s most unbelievable news so far went from being a joke to a nightmare.

The initial announcement

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 15: The news is broken. The Plymouth Herald  publishes a story just after 9pm on Thursday February 15 announcing that “Virtually every KFC in Plymouth is closed tonight” . The closures initially appear to be the result of a shortage of chips, but a local man called Mike Dixon quickly contacts the regional paper via its Facebook page to confirm everybody’s worst fear: KFC has ran out of chicken. By Monday February 19, about 600 of KFC’s 900 stores nationwide are closed, with the news reported in most of the nationals newspapers – including the Guardian, the Daily Mail, and The Sun – as well as further regional newspapers. West Sussex paper Bognor Regis Observer  proclaims the shortage as the area’s “worst news for years” – with a man called Phil Ball describing it as “the end of the world” – and the BBC takes to the streets to speak to disgruntled KFC customers. The news even goes stateside.

Twitter goes into meltdown

MONDAY FEBRUARY 19: Angry chicken lovers take to Twitter to express their dismay at the One user questions whether the shortage is “a sign of the apocalypse”, while another says he is “crying the bathroom” after having to take his grandchildren to second-choice McDonald’s instead of their favourite chicken outlet. KFC, meanwhile, releases an explanation on Twitter on Saturday February 17, saying that the shortage is the consequence of a “couple of teething problems” after it switched to new delivery partner DHL. But everything is still fairly light-hearted, with most simply amused at how KFC, whose main purpose is to fry and sell chicken, has ran out of chicken.

The reality sets in

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 20: By Tuesday evening, with about half of KFC’s 900 outlets still closed, a KFC spokesperson reveals that – despite its staff working “flat-out all hours to clear the backlog” – the crisis is set to continue for “the remainder of the week”.  The jokers stop in their tracks. The night sweats begin. Fuck cold turkey, this is cold chicken.

…the police, parliament, and The Chicken Connoisseur are called in

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 20: Understandably distraught, some KFC fans – in a bid to end the chicken drought – resort to phoning the police. Forces in Whitefield in Greater Manchester and East London issue statements asking people to refrain from contacting them. Tower Hamlets police tweets: “Please do not contact us about the – it is not a police matter if your favourite eatery is not serving the menu that you desire.”

Even parliament doesn’t escape the crisis, with Labour MP Neil Coil revealing he has been contacted by inconsolable KFC customers. In response, Tory MP Will Quince posts: “I love a KFC as much as the next man but to complain to your local MP that your local KFC is closed?! They must really love fried chicken!” Yes, Will, yes they do.

Elsewhere, The Chicken Connoisseur AKA Pengest Munch, steps in to the comfort of distraught KFC fans. The critic of small chicken shops tells everyone to “keep calm” and download the chicken2me app, which rates thousands of independent chicken shops worldwide.

KFC counts its chickens – and pledges to donate surplus to charity

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 21: With much of the UK’s population still running around like headless chickens (ha, ha), customers turn to a KFC webpage detailing which branches are open across the country.

More details of the causes behind the shortage emerge, too – with a local council revealing that DHL had been storing all KFC chicken in a single, unregistered cold-storage depot in Rugby. The council adds that the storage facility could have been closed over a breach of safety rules.

KFC releases a statement on Twitter, acknowledging that some of its chicken stock may have to be destroyed as a result of the shortage, saying it will look at donating some of the excess to charities.

The statement reads: “On a serious note – because our chicken is fresh, inevitably some may go to waste. And we hate that. Donating to local charities is one option, and we’re looking at many others.”

Although much of the reaction to the KFC crisis has been in jest, food wastage is a huge problem in the UK. In January it was reported that, in 2015, UK households binned £13bn worth of food – equivalent to 4.4m tonnes – which could have been eaten. And, food shortage is a global issue: Oxfam reports that about 1bn people worldwide are at risk of hunger because of food shortages.

…but the charities refuse the chicken

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 22: Despite KFC’s best intentions, the Guardian reports that a number of charities, including FareShare, which fights food waste and hunger, have refused KFC’s surplus chicken. Reasons include concerns over the safety of the chicken, as well as some local charities not having the resources to transport large quantities of the stock. The newspaper suggests that thousands of tonnes of chicken may go to waste.

What’s the current situation?

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 23: A KFC spokesperson has told NME that, as of Thursday February 22, 790 of its 900 outlets are open (85 per cent).

The spokesperson refused to confirm the amount of chicken destroyed as a result of the crisis, instead saying: “Unfortunately, given the initial problems, some chicken had to be scrapped. We haven’t got exact figures at this stage, but orders were immediately reduced to reflect these issues and we did everything we could to avoid wastage.

The spokesperson continued: “Nothing left for delivery or was served at our restaurants that didn’t meet our incredibly high standards, and the backlog of fresh chicken stock at the depot is now cleared as things get back to normal.”

In an attempt to push the boat out, KFC has also paid for a full-page apology in today’s Metro replacing the ‘KFC’ logo with ‘FCK’. The stunt won praise from Frank PR managing director Andrew Bloch, who described it on Twitter as “a masterclass in PR crisis management”.

The advert read: “A chicken shop without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed. ‘And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation. ‘It’s been a hell of week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. ‘Thank you for bearing with us.’