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What Colonel Sanders’ Retirement Says About the Food Industry

Americans, particularly those in their 20’s and 30’s (the key marketing sweet spot!),  are taking their food more seriously than before. That’s the key consumer insight derived from KFC, who has responded by retiring their long time mascot, Colonel Sanders.

The Colonel’s retirement signifies a bigger trend in the restaurant industry: “Fast casual” chains. Considered one step up from traditional fast food restaurants as they serve higher-quality food for more money, “fast-casual” chains (think Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread) are the fasting growing segment of the restaurant industry.

Rather than using humor to sell food, to compete with “fast casual” chains, fast food chains have switched to a healthy, fresh, ingredient-focused branding strategy and position themselves as destinations instead of a result of convenience. Many are also redesigning their restaurants.  In a society becoming more and more obsessed with urban farming, gardening, farmer’s markets and organic, locally-sourced foods, the fast food industry must adapt.

In addition to retiring the Colonel, KFC intends to test out a new concept. The fried chicken chain says it’s opening a location called “KFC eleven” next month near its headquarters in Louisville, Ky., that will serve flatbread sandwiches, rice bowls, salads and only boneless pieces of its Original Recipe chicken.

The Colonel will now join a list of retired kitschy mascots including the Mc. Donald’s “Hamburgular,” The Burger King “King” and the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

What do you think? A Smart branding communication strategy, or all too much for a company that is still selling fried chicken? How will consumers respond to the Colonel going away? And what lies ahead for the fast food industry in an increasingly “foodie” culture? Wait, is health food becoming “cool?”