Takes aim at Roy's roasters


February 03, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

When the House of the Colonel battles the House of the Cowboy, it must be the War of the Roasters.

Aiming to knock Roy Rogers off its high horse, Kentucky Fried Chicken has introduced a line of roast chicken menu items in its 125 KFC restaurants in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The new Colonel's Rotisserie Gold roasted chicken came to the market Saturday, just two months after Roy's hatched its own roast chicken product. The new KFC product, fresh from tests in Texas and Florida, is being backed by an advertising blitz touting the Rotisserie Gold as the "Lost Recipe" of its legendary founder, Col. Harland Sanders.

In a statement issued yesterday, KFC went straight for the gizzard in its battle to pluck market share away from its fast food foe.

"We're firing a shot across Roy Rogers' bow," crowed Chuck Rawley, vice president of the mid-Atlantic division of Louisville, Ky.-based Kentucky Fried, a PepsiCo subsidiary.

Both chains are catering to the dietary desires of Baby Boomers, whose concerns about health are growing along with their waistlines. In recent years, it has become clear that any restaurant chain that relies too heavily on selling fried food is in deep fat.

So serious is the trend that Kentucky Fried Chicken has renamed itself KFC and is planning a change in signage that will de-emphasize its oily roots.

With fried food waning in popularity, more chickens are ending up on spits than ever before. Giant Foods sells oven-roasted chicken at all its deli departments and is thinking of buying rotisserie equipment. Popular regional chains as Boston Chicken are expanding into the Baltimore market. Even such culinary luminaries as Sutton Place Gourmet will sell you a roaster for the road.

And the Colonel doesn't cotton to that one bit.

"We notice any competitor in the chicken business. We're sending a big message to any competitor in the market that the big dog's going to hunt too," said Mr. Rawley.

Proud of its status as the nation's largest chicken chain, KFC executives openly disparage Roy's poultry prowess.

"You have to be a little offended when a hamburger chain tries to tell consumers they have a good chicken product," said Gary Gerdemann, a corporate spokesman for Kentucky Fried Chicken. "It's just not so."

But in Rocky Mount, N.C., W. Maurice Bridges' feathers were unruffled by KFC's declaration of a "chicken war."

"I didn't realize there was a war going on," said the corporate spokesman for Roy Rogers' parent company, Hardee's Food Systems Inc.

Told of KFC's claims that its roast chicken was superior, Mr. Bridges said, "I would challenge that and let the consumer be the judge."

Disdaining the "hamburger chain" epithet, he said Roy Rogers has been in the fried chicken business for 32 years.

Mr. Bridges suggested that KFC might have been stung by Hardee's ads touting what was described as an independent taste test in which consumers preferred Roy's fried chicken to KFC's by a two-to-one margin.

"I think they've attempted to go on the offensive because they've been on the defensive," the spokesman said.

Mr. Bridges said Roy Rogers' Baltimore-Washington stores have seen increases of 15 percent to 20 percent since the rollout of the roast chicken menu items. He said said his company intends to eventually sell roast chicken at all of its more than 3,000 Hardee's restaurants.

And KFC said that if the Baltimore-Washington rollout is successful, KFC will likely add roast chicken to the menus at all of its 5,100 restaurants nationwide.

"This may well be the beginning of a whole new chicken industry," said Mr. Gerdemann.

"There may be a day when we sell more rotisserie chicken than fried chicken."

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