Chicken Chain Goes 'Interactive' With Laptop-like Box

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- KFC is expanding its focus on children's meals but is ditching the accompanying plastic
Eat the food, play with the laptop-like packaging.
toys that have become standard for luring children into restaurants.

When the Tricon Global Restaurants chain rolls out its Kids Lap Top Pack program in June, the focus will be on interactive packaging to get children more interested in playing with -- and eating -- their food.

Safety concerns
With prior toy premium promotions, "we typically used third- and fourth-rate properties, if at all," said Cynthia Koplos, KFC director of marketing. "With all the safety concerns about plastic toys and [the revelation] that older kids couldn't care less about the toy, we just wanted something that would fit more into our brand strategy."

Tested first in company stores near the chain's Louisville, Ky., headquarters, each $2.99 pint-size meal will be served in a box styled after a laptop computer that keeps food items separated and is emblazoned with games and puzzles based on each promotion.

"As we put more and more emphasis on individual-type meals instead of buckets, we want to make sure kids are covered as well," Ms. Koplos

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Franchisees are hungry for the potential draw. Ms. Koplos estimated that 80% of the 5,400 unit system plans to participate.

Tired of recalls
"I'm glad we're out of the toy business," said Dick Cahill, a franchisee of one KFC and eight Taco Bell units in Broken Arrow, Okla., who called toys a hassle. "We get toys, then we get recalls. I'm tired of that. [The new package] is going to make our lives easier."

In August 2000, KFC pulled 425,000 Tangled Treeples toys after discovering part of the toy could suffocate children under 3 years old.

Other fast feeders vying for the pitter-patter of tiny foot traffic also have experienced problems with kids' meal toys. Since 1982, McDonald's has recalled two toys and offered exchanges for two others after choking incidents. In 1997, Wendy's International recalled 800,000 Felix the Cat roller fun balls after similar incidents. Burger King Corp. conducted the largest such recall in the industry in 2000 when it asked consumers to discard 25 million Pokemon balls after two children suffocated on parts of the toys. Since then, the chain has recalled three additional toddler toys that posed choking hazards.

Rare movie promotion
KFC is also trying to attract children with a tie-in with Paramount Pictures' December release, The Wild Thornberrys, based on the Nickelodeon TV series, as the centerpiece of its fourth-quarter kids' meal promotion. Such a promotion is rare for the chain, which got burned with a tie-in to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace as part of the Tricon triumvirate in 1999 that left franchisees with loads of unwanted premiums.

Beginning in late October and continuing through January 2003, the The Wild Thornberrys promotion will be backed by in-store merchandising, box designs and limited market advertising incorporating the movie theme. Specific TV concepts are still in development and additional advertising support will depend on the success of the promotion test. Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, is KFC's ad agency; independent Creative Alliance, Louisville, handles point-of-purchase materials.

Currently, kids' meals drive 1% of the chain's sales. Ms. Koplos wouldn't quantify the sales potential for the program, currently viewed as more of a minor defensive strategy by analysts, but said, "We don't have a lot to lose here."

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