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KFC is being called out for a deceptive marketing campaign by vegan chicken brand VFC.
The fried chicken giant launched its ‘behind the bucket’ film, which showed imagery of healthy, happy chickens living in high-welfare conditions from KFC suppliers. The British vegan chicken brand VFC became suspicious about the film’s validity following its own experiences of U.K. poultry units. A subsequent visit by VFC to the same farm uncovered conditions that were unrecognisable. This has led to questions about whether KFC engaged in a duplicitous attempt to ‘welfarewash’ its operation, or if it too was lied to, by the farm in question.
Created in partnership with Joe.co.uk and social media influencer Niko Omilana, the KFC film was designed to win public favour and confidence. Conditions on the farm were represented as clean, healthy, and invested in animal welfare. VFC visited the location a few weeks later with its own filmmaker. Its own footage revealed shocking truths, harrowing images and a total lack of concern for the animals.
Intentional hoodwinking or supply chain subterfuge?
KFC regularly alludes to how much it cares about chickens. It has pushed its World Animal Protection’s Pecking Order top spot ranking to the forefront of its marketing campaigns. Having signed the Better Chicken Commitment in 2019, it declared it would act in ways that sought to support chicken welfare and went as far as calling on fellow fast-food chains to do the same.
“Chicken is who we are – it’s in the name – and we’re really proud to lead the way in our sector on improving chicken welfare,” the company states. “We use real, fresh chicken. It’s always cage-free. And we’re always looking for new ways to raise our welfare standards.”
In its film, KFC visits Park Farm (North) in Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire. It shows chickens enjoying a generous smattering of fresh straw on the shed floor, platform perches to encourage natural behaviour and bells, for entertainment. All birds pictured were young, agile and healthy in appearance, with no sick or dead birds found anywhere. On the face of it, this was a location geared towards high welfare, until the birds are slaughtered. The farm manager is seen on camera, exalting his pride in the farm’s animal welfare standards. “The chicken whisperer”, as he is dubbed, appears to be fully submerged in the (now) exposed lie.
VFC co-founder Matthew Glover visited the same farm a few weeks after KFC’s marketing campaign launch. In contrast, he discovered no straw on the shed floor, only animal faeces. Two bales of straw were left, plastic-wrapped, by the door. The perches had been raised to heights impossible to reach and the entertainment bells were noticeably absent. All of the birds were older, making for cramped conditions, with bird corpses and sick/lame animals covering the floor. Dead birds were found discarded in a wheelbarrow, inside the shed, presumably because the ‘dead bins’ outside were so full that limbs were protruding from under the lids. The state of the farm was almost identical to Glover’s previous undercover visits to other units.
What isn’t clear, yet, is whether KFC was complicit or duped by its supplier. If the latter proves to be true, it raises concerns for other purchasers, including U.K. supermarket chains, retailers and Moy Park, a large poultry producer.
Why consumers need to know
Consumers are starting to care more about how their food is produced. If shoppers are pledging loyalty to certain brands based on false ethical claims, it undermines consumer trust and sparks a worrying trend for the retail and food sectors.
“This is the most disingenuous marketing campaign we have seen for a long time,” Glover said in a statement. “This portrayal of chicken farming is utterly misleading and seeks to reassure the public that all is well, when nothing could be further from the truth. People have a right to know how filthy and crowded these farms are; how birds suffer and die right there in the sheds; and that the bins overflow with the carcasses of the poor animals who could not survive even a few weeks in such conditions. We were not surprised to find that things were this bad because this is the everyday reality of intensive chicken farming. But it leaves us with just one question: Did the farm lie to KFC about its welfare standards, or is KFC lying to the rest of us?”
VFC’s mission to arm consumers with knowledge
In January, VFC released findings from a consumer survey that showed most consumers call themselves animal lovers. The majority claimed not to approve of intensive chicken farming but admitted they didn’t know the technique accounts for most commercially available chicken meat. The exposé of the KFC-supplying farm is intended to offer an extra layer of transparency and to help consumers make fully informed decisions about what they eat and the companies they support.
On the commercial side, VFC has been busy. The brand celebrated its U.S. launch earlier this year after a successful $10.2 million seed funding round in the weeks prior. At the time, the company stated it was “sticking it to the Colonel”.
All photos by VFC.