KFC for that special Christmas meal, anyone? In Japan, the answer is a resounding yes.
So popular is Kentucky Fried Chicken over the festive season that the fast-food chain’s Christmas Party Barrels can be ordered up to two months in advance in Japan.
“I entered the company in around 1980 and at the time it was pretty tough because there would be these long queues outside the stores,” said Ichiro Takatsuki, a company spokesman. “Because of that over the past decade we’ve been taking orders. We started in November, but people would call and ask if we were taking orders yet, so we started earlier.”
Through one of the most successful advertising campaigns, which started in 1974, KFC Japan has made eating its chicken meals at Christmas a national custom. This happens on December 23, 24 and 25, but particularly Christmas eve. Sales for the three days are equal to half normal monthly sales, the company says.
Japan is well known for taking foreign products and ideas and adapting them to suit domestic taste, and Christmas is no exception. A highly commercialised and non-religious affair, lots of money is spent annually on decorations, dinners and gifts. KFC is arguably the biggest contributor, thanks in part to its advertising campaign.
“One of the reasons the campaign lasted so long is that the message is always the same: at Christmas you eat chicken,” said Yasuyuki Katagi, executive director at Ogilvy and Mather Japan, the advertising agency.
Lining up without an advance order, particularly on December 24, is possible but risky as the chicken is freshly fried and thus volume is limited.
On a visit to a KFC in the busy central Tokyo district of Shinjuku, staff members said that the queue will snake around the side of the building to a sushi restaurant located halfway down the next street for people to pick up their orders. In this KFC, orders are stronger than last year, and staff are expecting to produce about 7,000 chicken pieces on December 24.
Overall demand is also stronger than last year, KFC Japan says, adding that it is not possible to give specific numbers for their 1,240 restaurants.
Other fast food joints, such as Japan’s Mos Burger also try to cash in on the custom. Traditionally a burger chain, the company is currently advertising chicken for Christmas. However, people mostly seem to opt for KFC.
Yoshiaki Hirose, a Tokyo businessman, ordered his Party Barrel a couple of weeks ago. “It’s like a Christmas standard,” he said. “KFC holds a premium position [over other fast food chains], so it’s nicer for celebrating, without being overly expensive. You want to have a party with your family, save your wife from having to cook, and you can pick it up from your local shopping street on your way home from work.”
It all started in the early 1970s when KFC was new to the market, Japan’s economy was in its fast-growth stage and was absorbing and adapting appealing areas of western culture fast. It turned out to be perfect timing for KFC. According to the company, a representative of a Christian mission school had ordered chicken at a Tokyo KFC as they could not get hold of any turkey. A bright employee suggested the situation could be made into an ad campaign.
“If we’re in Tokyo [for Christmas] we definitely need to buy chicken,” Mr Katagi said.
“My daughters expect this.”