KFC: Chipping in

When KFC South Pacific managing director Nikki Lawson took the reins of the iconic franchise in 2016, she had more than just a mission for finger-lickin’ chicken.

The new leader was inspired to push the chain’s commitment to social enterprise and increase the level of community support KFC provided (Lawson will be leaving her role at KFC for Taco Bell in April, where she will move into the role of global brand chief).

“We gathered a group of franchisees, corporate and field team members to see if, by coming together, we could make an even bigger difference supporting one cause that was close to all our hearts. It was unanimously decided that it needed to be backing Aussie youth,” she explains.

While addressing mental health in the workplace is fairly common practice nowadays, much of the research relates to older employees in office settings. When it came to tackling youth confidence in the fast food sector, however, Lawson wanted KFC to lead the charge.

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 “Everyone has a role to play in society and even the smallest contributions can make a big difference,” she says. “As a successful Australian brand with over 650 restaurants in Australia, this provides a great platform for us to give back to communities.”

 Across those restaurants, KFC employs a predominantly youth staff-base, which is why Lawson describes the decision to address youth confidence and support as a no-brainer.

“With 90 per cent of our team under the age of 25, it was a no-brainer for us to go beyond our restaurants to support young Aussies.

“We see ourselves primarily as a people business. While we’re known for our delicious chicken, we have a people-first culture and pride ourselves on this as it fosters happy, confident young people.”

So, with a youth team as strong as KFC’s, how did Lawson plan on approaching the social issue?

KFC Youth Foundation

Joined by a team of engaged franchisees and head office staff, Lawson set to work on creating the KFC Youth Foundation in 2018, a dedicated support system for young people.

But it wasn’t just KFC championing the cause. Charities ReachOut, Whitelion, StreetWork, Youngcare and Reach all joined the initiative as partners, helping to bolster support and provide assistance where needed.

“At-risk young people feel lonely and disconnected from their community because they are seen as ‘different’ and it may feel easier to stay inside or [it may] seem impossible that they would get the same opportunities as others,” says Adam Gibson, NSW regional manager of youth advocacy charity Whitelion.

“Helping these young people to believe in themselves is the first confidence barrier.”

Together, KFC and the charity partners worked alongside YouGov to undertake an enormous research process, culminating in the release of the Youth Confidence Report. Now in its second year, the report takes a deep dive into the attitudes, feelings, opinions and challenges that Australia’s most at-risk generation faces.

“Through this research we uncovered some alarming results, including that 40 per cent of youth experience a lack of confidence every day or most days and that eight out of 10 have experienced a mental health issue,” Lawson says.

“These are serious issues that need to be fixed and though our KFC Youth Foundation we hope to help tackle the confidence deficit Aussie youth are facing.”

It’s a challenge that only seems to be growing. This year’s findings paint a worrying outlook, with an astonishing 81 per cent of young Australians not very confident that school and/or tertiary education will prepare them to land a job. In fact, 57 per cent of young Australians don’t think they’ll ever be able to move out of home and stand on their own feet.

While a nationwide confidence epidemic may be a challenge too burdensome for KFC to tackle alone, Lawson believes the partnerships developed may make the inroads needed.

“While we can provide supportive environments for young people to work, we are not specifically trained to tackle these issues alone,” she says.

“That’s why we’re proud to work with charity partners who understand the issues faced by young Aussies and support them through their work in mentorship, skills development, supporting mental wellbeing and providing an even playing field for all young Aussies.”

Chip In for Youth

The initiative is now snowballing, gathering traction from all sides. Franchisees, community partners and customers have banded together to help address concerns, prompting KFC to bolster its campaign strategy.

Launching the inaugural “Chip In For Youth” week initiative, the chain donated $1 from every limited edition bucket of chips to the KFC Youth Foundation.

“It’s provided an opportunity for every individual to get involved and make a difference, which is why the results are so great – it’s their KFC Youth Foundation,” Lawson says.

“Our people have told us that to them, KFC is first a training school, second a family and third, a place to be where they feel truly supported and able to be themselves.”

The varying strategies have paid off so far. Lawson reveals that since the Youth Foundation launched in 2018, more than $1.4 million has been raised, much of which has come from the network’s franchisees themselves.

“This passion for supporting the KFC Youth Foundation runs through our restaurants all the way to our Restaurant Support Centre. From bottle recycling schemes and raffles to gala events, everyone is doing something to contribute,” she explains.

“Our franchisees in South Australia are also involved in an annual Youth Foundation charity ball and KFC Griffith and the Mitropoulos family are even running a fundraising event with local businesses and the mayor to show their support!”

Lawson’s take on social commitment is a refreshing one. The KFC managing director believes that it is her duty as an employer to not only back her staff at work, but throughout the course of their life.

“We love to see our people succeed and develop when working with us, but we get equally excited when we see them achieve in their careers and personal goals, beyond KFC,” she says.

“We know that by putting our people first, profit will follow. That’s why we provide our people with personal development and training opportunities to help them to be their best self, make a difference and of course have fun.”

That isn’t to say the colonel isn’t backing a number of innovative new network additions as well.

New developments

In July last year, the franchise unveiled plans to turn the quick service restaurant sector on its head.

A world-first, five-lane drive-through-only concept store was revealed to the public, with KFC investing around $1.5 million on the network update.

Lawson said the chain was inspired to launch the new model after watching online growth explode. Over the past five years, the fast food giant has reported a 100 per cent increase in online ordering through its app, year on year.

“Drive-through-only is the latest example of KFC’s commitment to innovation and to giving Aussies the most delicious and fresh chicken possible,” she says.

“It further shows our dedication to continually building on our customer offering and that we’re always providing delicious and fresh meals in the most convenient way to meet their busy lifestyles.”

Additionally, the chain also launched a cheeky marketing campaign that saw them offer six soon-to-be-wedded couples an all-inclusive package.

Dubbed KFC Weddings, the initiative comes in response to the wealth of couples who pop the question in-store or cater their big day with a bucket of the colonel’s finest.

The winning couples received a KFC-themed wedding celebrant, photo booth and entertainment, with catering supplied, via a food truck, in custom KFC buckets.

But for all the new additions, innovations and implementations, Lawson is most proud of KFC’s commitment to youth culture.

“The youth of today are the future of tomorrow and we’re committed to creating an environment that empowers and supports young people not just in our restaurants, but beyond the walls of KFC,” she says.

“It’s important to give young Aussies the skills and support they need to thrive, not just survive.”

This article was originally published in Inside Franchise Business.

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