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Why KFC prioritizes team members first amid supply chain and labor challenges

KFC COO Monica Rothgery on how the company has triaged priorities at this stage in the pandemic and made crucial tech and menu investments to stay ahead


At this point in the pandemic, amid the delta variant fears and continued labor and supply chain concerns, KFC is choosing to prioritize their team members.

KFC’s success during the first year of the pandemic was marked by major menu and digital investments, including the new chicken sandwich, which was in testing last year and became available portfolio-wide in early 2021, and the fried chicken chain’s first-ever website and mobile app (though as of right now, only pickup is available directly through the app).

“It was pretty obvious that there was an appetite for chicken sandwiches and hats off to our food innovation team who painstakingly found the right the right piece of chicken at the right size,” KFC chief operating officer Monica Rothgery told Nation’s Restaurant News. “I think we tasted probably 10 different pickles to find the right one. […] We had to make sure there was mass appeal.”

Besides the massive product launch last year, KFC’s other major investment was in technology, where Rothgery said they were essentially starting from scratch. Before the pandemic, she said, KFC did not have a mobile app and did not exist and now they’re working on building out the Yum Brands chain omnichannel digital presence. Also, they were looking to invest in rather than update existing technology, the brand was able to be choosy with which convenience and digital experience technology they wanted to dabble in:

“We can learn from everybody else who already has kiosks and digital menu boards, etc. and go, ‘yes, no, that works, that doesn’t,’” Rothgery said. “It adds a huge benefit to the customer experience to know if [a piece of technology] is worth the investment.”

But after this giant leap forward into the digital world, KFC is pumping the brakes on further tech investments to focus primarily on their team members and getting customer experience right, especially as labor and supply chain issues continue to plague the industry.

“We pivoted to spend a lot more time on staffing retention, culture, […] and creating an environment that people want to work in,” Rothgery said. “[…] There’s so much strain on both sides of the counter and across the country, people are weary. So, I don't want to put any more burden on our restaurants right now, that is not absolutely essential to what they need to do for guests today. We'll get to all the other stuff later.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

Find her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

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