by Marion Nestle
Apr 28 2010

KFC’s Double Down again. Sigh.

I can’t believe I’m writing about the bunless Double Down sandwich for the fourth time (see previous posts), but KFC’s marketing department never ceases to amaze.  In reading the company’s press releases, I somehow missed what KFC is doing with the “missing” buns: donating them to food banks!

When introducing a bunless sandwich, the obvious question is: what happens to all the buns? To celebrate the launch of the Double Down, KFC will do some good by donating the “unneeded” sandwich buns to feed the hungry….it’s great to find a good home for some of those ‘unneeded’ KFC buns at food banks around the country.

The mind, as they say, boggles.  You need go no further to understand why we need a more rational and effective food assistance policy in this country.

Could KFC’s relentless marketing efforts be acts of desperation?  According to Advertising Age (April 19),

The fast-food chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to have tried everything. It’s changed its name to initials, then back to words, then back to initials. It’s leaned on cheap marketing stunts…most recently, launching the 500-calorie Double Down sandwich, which replaces bread with chicken breasts…KFC’s market share tumbled six full points since 2005 to 30% in 2009, while the category grew from $14.5 billion to $16.1 billion.

Advertising Age says KFC’s measured media advertising budget was a mere $235 million in 2009, and that the Double Down is expected to improve KFC’s fortunes.

No question, the Double Down brought in plenty of free media buzz.  I’ve once again contributed to it, hopefully for the last time.

  • Michael Kinex

    For you to complain about the KFC campaign to ehlp Breat Cancer is just sour grapes.

    Their pledge for donations has nothing to do with the food content. And for you to take issue with that makes you look like the nutball you are.

  • Jon

    Double sigh from me. I work at a food bank (such is the sleeping with the enemy relationship between hunger relief organizations, agri-business, and restaurant/food providers that I won’t name the food bank and I’ll go even further and state that the opinions I express are my own and not those of my employer). The last thing we (or most food banks) need is more highly perishable, over processed bread product. In most areas bread product (of this sort at least – which should be categorize as a ‘sweet”) is generally abundant as every local grocery store and bakery looks to unload the days unsold product on someone. Now, if we’re talking about bread products low in sugar and high in whole grains . . . that is a different story. The point is that this is just the latest in a long line of marketing driven, as opposed to need driven, donations by YUM Brands and their brethren that could easily fall under the category of “when helping hurts.” To be fair, I noticed that the press release says that they will donate both “buns and funds” (there is a good rap song in there somewhere . . .) and I assume the bulk of the donations to food banks will be funds with the buns showing up in quantities sufficient enough for a good photo op and another press release. And make no mistake, food banks will have no trouble distributing these little half domes of artery clogging carbo-paste to the increasingly growing numbers of individuals and families seeking food assistance. At this point I would love to expound on the afore mentioned dysfunctional relationship between hunger relief orgs and the industrialized food industry but I hate to thread jack. I will however go so far as to say that it is long past time that we moved beyond the “beggars can’t be choosers” model of mindlessly fawning over any and every little crumb that begrudgingly falls out of the maw of the industrialized agri-food-retail complex. Regardless of whether you believe in the myth of the socially conscious corporation, or consumer for that matter, these industries and corporations are certainly receiving a perceived value by their relationship and support of hunger relief and it’s high time that the nature of their aid was shaped by the mutuality of that relationship. It is not surprising to me that the main tag line promoting KFC’s Double Down on their TV spots is the one word mantra: “Unthink.” Not surprising, but definitely disappointing.

  • Stevein StLouis

    Mr. Kinex: And for you to take issue with Ms. Nestle on this and call her a “nutball” says more about you than about her. You can make your case without name calling.

  • Emily

    @ Michael: why do you think Ms. Nestle is experiencing sour grapes? Is she jealous that KFC isn’t donating money to her, or have you misused the term, which refers to envy? You’ve also clearly not read any of Ms. Nestle’s writing if you cannot see why she has “issues” with this kind of publicity-mongering. As Steve says, your post says a good deal more about you than about Ms. Nestle.

  • annie

    jon!! i could have written that myself (i have the same complaints about food banks, too). i’m sharing part of your letter as a quote. it’s time we start to treat all people as worthy of healthy and soundly nutritious foods. thanks for the succinct and brief debate fragment.

  • As a silver lining type of gal, should we get a slight rush from the fact that KFC’s market share is dwindling? Clearly their last-ditched attempted to win people over isn’t winning everyone over. And I don’t know what’s worse the donnations to the food banks or the “double down” their customers will be served.

  • MA

    I can feel you cringe when you say you’ve “…once again contributed…” to the free media attention for that so-called sandwich. I think you are doing more good than harm – I hadn’t even heard of it before reading about it on your blog. Most people don’t think about food advertising at all, or the far-reaching effects (social, political, environmental, health, etc.) of eating junk food. Most people I talk to are simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the double-down. Your posts are a good starting point for REAL food-talk with the less informed. So, thanks for giving it the media attention it deserves!

  • nika

    re: decreasing popularity .. I think it actually has to do with their product and consistently rude and crappy service in all KFCs I have visited in years past.

    But its the product that is key. I remember eating KFC out of that bucket as a kid, on picnics and family trips.

    Was so delicious and the smell alone would almost make you go crazy with desire for the chicken (this was back in the 60s and 70s).

    I have no food allergies or sensitivities. In recent years I literally have doubled over in extreme pain after eating just a piece of their crispy chicken recipe.

    Every single time I ate it (in the 90s and MAYBE early 2001 or 2002, have not touched it since) I was in pain for hours. Lingering nausea haunted me for a day after.

    I am not privy to their recipe but I am guessing that the use of a certain ingredient in huge quantities in their skin/batter is what is doing it to me – MSG.

    Chicken skin is already delicious as it is… for some reason KFC feels the need to transform chicken skin into this manky highly toxic biolaminate supersaturated with high concentrations of MSG, delivering a very high bolus of this neurotoxin to the GI rapidly.

    Why? That sort of exposure is addictive to those who do not experience GI upset.

    Other than that, I cant see why KFC would fare any better or worse than other crap fast food.

  • Anthro


    Thanks for your comment and thanks for your work at the food bank! I recently made up a bag of groceries donation for the Boy Scouts drive. It included (among other things) canned beans, whole grain pasta, canned tomatoes, oatmeal, canned fruit, unadulterated baby food, and some instant coffee and hot chocolate mix. I tried to make it nutritious, without denying recipients of some pleasures. I usually donate a baby food grinder rather than baby food as this is the way I fed my children, but am told this is not nice and so, reluctantly, changed my ways. I did the whole grain blend for the pasta as I was afraid many will not be used to 100% whole grain and not use it. I hope I am not being overly zealous about the healthy food and that my small donations will help offset some of the PR scams of KFC and others.
    To the person who gets sick from KFC:

    You could get sick just from the amount of FAT landing in your stomach from that chicken. I once (in desperation on a road trip) ordered a two piece meal and tried to get rid of some of the grease by wrapping the chicken in a napkin and squeezing a bit–I ended up using dozens of napkins and the grease was still oozing out! I ate the cole slaw, threw out the rest, and drove with a growling stomach to the next town with a market and bought some cheese and fruit. Lesson learned!

  • Don’t blame nika’s reaction on too much fat. Not likely that was the cause. Instead, learn more about MSG at This is the magic ingredient in all fast food and many processed foods as well. And it doesn’t have to appear on the list of ingredients.

  • Dear Dr. Nestle,

    I wouldn’t worry too much about contributing to the media blitz. You have used a remarkably revolting photo to illustrate the abomination, after all!

    I also wanted to mention that I’ve been enjoying watching the tag menu on the right of the blog grow and shout out the major topics that keep coming up. It’s getting more interesting as time passes….

  • Pete

    @ Eliza

    I actually think thats the most appetizing shot of the “sandwich” I have seen yet! LOL

    @ Jon – wow! Just awesome!

    But this doesn’t hold a candle to Ihop’s new Stackers!!! Cheesecake sandwich with a pancake bun!

  • Mike

    The bun thing was a gimmick. They’re actually donating money to the food banks, plus a few “unneeded buns” to get the publicity.

  • Strange to complain about donating to a food bank. But I think the marketing campaign is what the author is getting at. There are no “missing buns” as they don’t buy extraneous items just to donate them. Hopefully they are sending big fat checks to the food banks. I haven’t tried the sandwich yet, but I am intrigued to see if it tastes any good.

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