If you bring a bucket of KFC fried chicken to a Christmas dinner, it may raise some eyebrows for being unconventional — unless you’re from Japan.
In 1970, KFC launched a fast food marketing campaign called “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii” which means “Kentucky for Christmas.” This was the brainchild of Takeshi Okawara, the first manager of the first KFC restaurant in Japan.
According to the BBC, Harvard-educated Okawara said that the idea came to him in a dream. Eventually, after hearing foreigners talk about how they miss having the traditional turkey for Christmas back home, Okawara hoped that the concept of a fried chicken “party barrel” would be a great substitute. He then began marketing the “Party Barrel for Christmas” which immediately became a national phenomenon.
“It filled a void. There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, ‘This is what you should do on Christmas,’” said Joonas Rokka, associate professor of marketing at Emlyon Business School in France.
After the concept took off, so did Okawara’s career. He rose through company ranks and worked as president and CEO of KFC Japan from 1984 to 2002.
But if you’re thinking of fried chicken breasts and thighs packed in a bucket, you’re wrong. The company morphed their meals to special family dinner packages complete with chicken, cakes and wine.
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In 2016, “Kentucky Christmas” meal packages ranged from a box of fried chicken priced at $32 to a whole roasted chicken with sides for $49. According to the company, these Christmas packages account to about a third of their yearly sales in Japan.
Every Christmas season, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese line up to get fried chicken from the all-American fast food chain. December is known to be a busy year for KFC in Japan, and sales for the month could mean 10 times their average take.
For those who are planning to get this special dinner package, KFC’s special dinner often requires ordering weeks in advance. Otherwise, you will have to fall in line at the store that may take hours of waiting.
From an outsider’s point of view, especially people from the West, the idea of having KFC for a special Christmas dinner is considered unorthodox.
“KFC on Christmas. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve heard. If you brought a bucket of fried chicken to Christmas dinner, honestly, I’d be mad at you,” said Chef Kevin Gillespie.
But when it comes to Japan, where only about 1% of the population is Christian and Christmas isn’t considered a holiday, the idea of spending the entire day cooking for a festive family dinner is just impractical.
Moreover, KFC for Christmas is another way to look at globalization where consumer rituals reach other countries and manifest in different ways.
“It’s kind of a symbol of family reunion,” Japanese local Ryohei Ando says. “It’s not about the chicken. It’s about getting the family together, and then there just happens to be chicken as part of it.”
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