COLONEL'S KITCHEN TRIES 'COMFORT FOOD'

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Supermarket food-service departments have a new potential competitor in the wings: the Colonel's Kitchen.The Colonel's Kitchen, a concept being tested by Kentucky Fried Chicken, is designed to "combine old-fashioned meals with convenience." The concept was launched in Dallas late last month in a single-unit test. No timetable has been set for a rollout, said Jean Litterst, KFC's

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Supermarket food-service departments have a new potential competitor in the wings: the Colonel's Kitchen.

The Colonel's Kitchen, a concept being tested by Kentucky Fried Chicken, is designed to "combine old-fashioned meals with convenience." The concept was launched in Dallas late last month in a single-unit test. No timetable has been set for a rollout, said Jean Litterst, KFC's manager of public affairs. The Colonel's Kitchen features 36 menu items, including fresh-roasted turkey, chicken pot pie, turkey tetrazzini, Caesar salad with chicken and an array of side dishes and desserts, as well as KFC's Original Recipe fried chicken and Rotisserie Gold chicken.

All food is prepared on site, and most recipes were created expressly for the restaurant.

"There's a chef carving a 26-pound turkey every day. This is the kind of food that Grandma would have cooked," said Litterst. "We're targeting busy Moms and Dads who want to put a wholesome meal on the table, but don't want to take time to cook it themselves."

Customers can dine in or take food out. There's seating for 62, and a drive-through window. Home delivery will be added this spring, officials said. The restaurant, just off an expressway in northeast Dallas, formerly housed a traditional, corporate-owned KFC unit.

If this concept were successful, what would be the impact on supermarkets' food-service departments, which are placing an increasing emphasis on home-style takeout meals?

"The Colonel's Kitchen may spell heartburn for supermarket food-service retailers in the battle for a share of the consumer's stomach," said Brian Salus, president of Salus & Associates, a food marketing consulting firm in Midlothian, Va. Salus was formerly with Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., one of the first chains to offer "comfort food" meals to take home.

"Increased competition for a share of business by these food service professionals just means the bar of acceptability and consistency has been raised that much higher," Salus added. He stressed that such new competition should spur retailers to improve not only the quality and freshness of their prepared foods, but also the appearance of the department and the salesmanship of associates.

But an official at a Texas supermarket chain that has some units in Dallas said he doesn't see the new KFC concept as much of a threat.

"Good luck to them. It'll be hard to pull off. Dallas is a real finicky market and the competition among restaurants is tremendous. It's looks to me like they're trying to be everything to everybody. With such a variety, prepared at store level, keeping quality up will be very difficult. I know that from experience in the restaurant business," he said.

"I think they're making a mistake. They should stick to what they are already doing well."

Tom Pierson, professor of food marketing at Michigan State University, Lansing, Mich., said the new concept is something to reckon with. "To the extent that it offers such variety and is obviously targeting off-premises eating, the Colonel's Kitchen will compete more head-to-head with supermarkets than conventional KFC units do," he said.

"They're clearly trying to be America's kitchen. That broad menu substantially differentiates this effort from anything else KFC has done."

Pierson said shoppers choose supermarket food-service items over fast-food fare for what they see as greater menu choice and better nutrition.

"And it looks as though KFC intends to offer those with this new concept," he added. Prices appear to be comparable to those in many supermarket food-service departments. The average check per person is expected to be $5, Litterst said.