KFC is plotting a major consumer ad push in China next month as it battles increased competition and struggles to regain consumers trust that its chicken products are safe.
The company in November will introduce a new KFC advertising campaign in China about quality assurance, CEO David Novak said on a conference call. It's not a highly original approach but one that KFC is hoping will resonate with Chinese consumers: The ads will feature store employees and suppliers such as poultry farmers, he said.
The move comes as parent Yum Brands -- in part due to its woes in China -- said third-quarter profit fell 68%. Net income decreased to $152 million, or 33 cents a share, from $471 million, or $1, a year earlier, the Louisville, Kentucky-based company said in a statement. It also cut its 2013 earnings forecast as same-store sales dropped in the Asian nation.
Yum, which gets about three-quarters of its revenue from outside the U.S., is facing more competition from expanding restaurant chains, such as Dicos and Hua Lai Shi in China. It's also facing a backlash from consumers there after an outbreak of avian flu scared diners away from poultry and a former chicken supplier was investigated for selling food with too much antibiotics.
"It's just taking a little longer than we expected" for China to recover, Jonathan Blum, a Yum spokesman, said in an interview with Bloomberg News. While consumer trust in KFC has improved in the Asian country, "it's not exactly back to where it was," he said.
Yum lowered its forecast for 2013 earnings, citing "lower-than-expected China sales and a higher-than-expected full-year tax rate." Full-year earnings excluding certain items will decline at a "high-single to low-double-digit" percentage rate from the prior year, the company said. Yum previously said earnings would decline at a "mid-single-digit" rate.
The fast-food company also cut its forecast for China, saying fourth-quarter same-store sales there will "unlikely" be positive. Yum last month forecast growth in comparable-store sales for the Asian nation.
"Sales have not yet fully recovered from the adverse publicity surrounding the December poultry supply incident," the company said in yesterday's statement.
Yum, which has more than 6,000 KFC, Pizza Hut and other stores in China, has been trying to attract customers there with an ad campaign telling people it's safe to eat properly cooked chicken. The company, which is targeting young families with the advertisements, also is promoting other proteins in China such as shrimp and mushroom rolls.
Same-store sales were unchanged in the U.S. in the third quarter, while analysts estimated a 1.5% increase, according to Consensus Metrix, a researcher owned by Wayne, New Jersey-based Kaul Advisory Group. Same-store sales also were unchanged in India and advanced 1% at other international stores.
Comparable-store sales are considered an indicator of growth because they include only older, established locations.