I Go on a Rant About Yum Brands

Yum! was created on October 7, 1997, as Tricon Global Restaurants, Inc. an independent company, as a result of a spin-out from PepsiCo, which owned and franchised the KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell brands worldwide.  It’s been a successful venture, by any measure.

What fascinates and irritates me at the same time, is the company’s idea of “product innovation” is limited to what I am calling “shape shifting”.

Take the same ingredients, make it into a different shape, give it a made-up name, market the hell out of it.  Voila!   Change management!

I’ve tested my theory by ordering by shape at Taco Bell;  I’d like two of those “tube” things, or “one triangle, and one square”.  Most clerks get it.

Pizza Hut has done it by reworking the same ingredients into “thin, hand-tossed, and pan” style pizzas;  whacking pizza dough into slices and calling it breadsticks;  putting several different items into a box and calling it a “big dinner box” and now, making a raft of tiny pizzas and calling them “sliders”.

KFC?  Same deal.

I’d like to see any of these brands branch out from this mentality, and come up with some new products.  Yum acquired Long John Silvers and A&W a decade ago, didn’t keep them long, I guess they couldn’t figure out how to reshape root beer and fish sticks.

The big growth for all of these companies is coming from opening international locations, and in the case of YUM, particularly China.  I remember being at one of the first Pizza Huts in China, in Guangzhou, maybe 15 years or so ago.  My Chinese colleagues were masters of cleaning out the salad bar by stacking ingredients on a single plate.    It was generally thought, at least by western culture, that the Chinese did not have an affinity for cheese, so as I recall, the pizza menu referred to that ingredient as a “hot and creamy melted topping” or some such.

Perhaps being located in different cultures, YUM will be able to introduce some more new shapes in the US market.   But let’s hope it goes beyond that.

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