KFC planning TV commercial campaign to respond to any bird flu outbreak

Wednesday, November 9th 2005, 7:30 am
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ In coming days, KFC will have television commercials ready to reassure customers that its chicken is safe to eat if there is a bird flu outbreak.

The chicken chain said Tuesday it hopes the spots never have to air, but it's taking no chances in the face of a potential threat to business.

``As our investors would hope, we are being proactive in preparing the materials in the event that we need to use them,'' Jonathan Blum, spokesman for KFC's parent, Yum Brands Inc., said of the spots expected to be shot soon.

Kentucky Fried Chicken and its parent, both based in Louisville, have spent months planning a quick response in case of bird flu outbreaks in its markets worldwide.

National Chicken Council spokesman Richard Lobb called KFC's decision to have standby ads ``wise and prudent,'' but insisted there is no reason for concern of an outbreak in this country. The United States will produce 9.5 billion birds this year and does not import any poultry from countries affected by the avian flu, he said.

``Even if we did have an outbreak, which is unlikely, it's going to be very limited,'' Lobb said. ``And the number of birds involved will be very small.''

Currently, the virus is hard for people to catch, and most deaths have been linked to human handling of infected poultry. Vietnam, the country hit hardest by bird flu, on Tuesday reported its 42nd human death. World health experts warn, however, the virus could mutate into a form that's easily passed from person to person, possibly sparking a global outbreak.

Yum reported Monday that KFC sales in October were up 6 percent in the United States, where the company has detected no consumer backlash from media reports on concerns about bird flu. In recent months, KFC has shaken off a slump and taken an upward trajectory amid the success of its 99-cent Snacker sandwich and variety chicken bucket.

In China, where KFC recently opened its 1,500th restaurant, Yum posted sharply lower sales growth in October. Yum has Pizza Hut restaurants in China, but the bulk of sales come from KFC.

Sales rose by 8 percent in the China division, compared to 24 percent growth a year ago. Blum attributed the slowdown to a disappointing promotion for a crispy chicken steak product.

Industry analyst Larry Miller of Prudential Equity Group also cited the weak product promotion for lower-than-expected China results. But in his response to October sales, he also wrote, ``Headlines from the avian flu situation continue to weigh on overall consumer sentiment toward chicken in China.''