How KFC Became a Christmas Tradition in Japan

December 18, 2018

Over 3 million Japanese families eat KFC at Christmastime. The holiday season accounts for one-third of KFC Japan's yearly sales. Stores dress up Colonel Sanders statues in full Santa regalia. Lines stretch around the block. The tradition may be a national phenomenon, but it all began with an impulse promotion from a store manager in Nagoya

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Speaker 1: In 1974, [MUSIC] KFC introduced a marketing campaign

Speaker 1: called KURISMASU NI WA KENTAKKI, Kentucky for Christmas.

Speaker 1: The campaign has turned into a national phenomenon.

Speaker 1: KFC Japan encourages stores to dress up

Speaker 1: statues of Colonel Sanders in Santa garb.

Speaker 1: Their Christmas party barrel meal

Speaker 1: includes family sized boxes [NOISE] of chicken,

Speaker 1: mashed potatoes, and wine, for $32.

Speaker 1: These packages account for about a [NOISE] third of

Speaker 1: the chain's yearly sales in Japan,

Speaker 1: [NOISE] and sales of popular franchises

Speaker 1: increased tenfold during Christmas.

Speaker 1: Three point six million families eat

Speaker 1: KFC during the Christmas season.

Speaker 1: It's a national tradition,

Speaker 1: and it all began as

Speaker 1: an impulse promotion by a store manager in Nagoya.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC] While KFC gained traction in Japan in the 70s,

Speaker 1: the US had been promoting the industrialization of

Speaker 1: Japanese chicken production since World War II.

Speaker 2: [NOISE] ''Did you know that poultry is

Speaker 2: the nation's third largest agricultural crop?

Speaker 2: A great billion dollar business.

Speaker 1: Starting in the 1950s,

Speaker 1: Japan began importing

Speaker 1: grain and specialized chicken [NOISE] breeds

Speaker 1: from the United States.

Speaker 1: Next, the industry began to mechanize.

Speaker 1: Farms grew from raising 50 chickens,

Speaker 1: to more than 8,000.

Speaker 1: Battery cages save space,

Speaker 1: and direct directing more of a hen's

Speaker 1: energy [NOISE] to egg production.

Speaker 1: Chicken production was booming,

Speaker 1: and with it, Japan's appetite for it.

Speaker 1: At the center of this import boom,

Speaker 1: was an unexpected company, Mitsubishi.

Speaker 1: Mitsubishi is much more

Speaker 1: than air conditioners and motorcycles.

Speaker 1: It's what the Japanese refer to as a Soga Sosha,

Speaker 1: a vertically integrated trading conglomerate.

Speaker 1: Since 1870, the company has had its hands in mining,

Speaker 1: shipbuilding, insurance,

Speaker 1: electronics, and even food and beverage.

Speaker 1: In the late 1960s,

Speaker 1: Mitsubishi sent an employee to

Speaker 1: the US to investigate

Speaker 1: the success of the chicken industry.

Speaker 1: This employee happened to meet with

Speaker 1: the top buyer of chicken in the United States.

Speaker 1: None other than Colonel Sanders.

Speaker 2: Its finger licking good.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC] After four years of consistent negotiations,

Speaker 1: he finally got the nod.

Speaker 1: In 1970, Mitsubishi and KFC signed

Speaker 1: an agreement that led to the founding of KFC Japan.

Speaker 1: In 1973, Takeshi Okawara,

Speaker 1: a recent graduate of Harvard Business School,

Speaker 1: was managing Japan's first KFC.

Speaker 1: Rumors hint that the idea came to him in a dream.

Speaker 1: Others say he was inspired by

Speaker 1: the American tradition of serving turkey in the holidays.

Speaker 1: But, here's the real story.

Speaker 1: A kindergarten spokesperson came into

Speaker 1: his Oyama branch with a proposition,

Speaker 1: the school would order KFC for their Christmas party if

Speaker 1: Okawara would deliver the food

Speaker 1: dressed up as Santa, [NOISE] he agreed.

Speaker 1: Word spread, and more and more schools began ordering

Speaker 1: KFC hoping that Santa would deliver it.

Speaker 1: Okawara capitalized on this and introduced

Speaker 1: a party barrel to the menu

Speaker 1: as a way to celebrate the holiday.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC] The campaign has paid dividends over the years.

Speaker 1: In 2017, KFC Japan earned $540 million,

Speaker 1: but between December 23rd and 25th,

Speaker 1: the company recorded $53 million in sales.

Speaker 1: That's around 10 percent of

Speaker 1: the company's yearly sales in one weekend.

Speaker 1: Much of the success of

Speaker 1: KFC Japan can be attributed to this campaign.

Speaker 1: Today, Japan is the third largest market for KFC

Speaker 1: with 1,165 outlets [NOISE],

Speaker 1: as of December 2014 [NOISE].

Speaker 1: But it's not just about sales,

Speaker 1: KFC at Christmas has made

Speaker 1: its way into Japan's pop culture.

Speaker 1: This is Mariya Takeuchi classic song,

Speaker 1: ''Suteki na Holiday'' also known as,

Speaker 1: The Kentucky courtesan Massu song.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC] And maybe what's most surprising about all this,

Speaker 1: is that Japan doesn't celebrate Christmas.

Speaker 1: At least the majority, 50 percent of

Speaker 1: Japan practice's Shintoism or no religion,

Speaker 1: less than 40 percent is Buddhist,

Speaker 1: and between 1 to 2 percent is Christian.

Speaker 1: Despite this, there are lines around the corner that

Speaker 1: KFC is around Japan during Christmas.

Speaker 1: Oh, and Okawara?

Speaker 1: He climbed through the company ranks at

Speaker 1: KFC to eventually become the CEO and

Speaker 1: president of KFC Japan from 1984 to 2002.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC]