by Ian Girling, chief executive, Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry

THERE has been huge coverage of the “great 2018 chicken drought”, where problems with DHL, working with QSL, as the new KFC distributor caused over 600 of 900 UK restaurants to run out of chicken, forcing their temporary closure.

On February 18, it was reported that only 266 of 900 restaurants remained open. This has been nothing short of a disaster for KFC, owned by fast food giant Yum! Brands. A decision to move away from their established distributor, Bidvest, and the appointment of DHL has had catastrophic results for the company. It’s also been a PR disaster for DHL and QSL and it’s hard to imagine the damage this must have done to their brands. Most KFC restaurants are also run as franchises and the impact on these business owners will have been severe, compounding the problem.

It has been reported that Mike Rix, the national officer of union GMB, warned KFC that it may face a repeat of problems that had hit Burger King when it moved from Bidvest Logistics to DHL six years ago. According to Mike Rix, this change has also led to 255 job losses and the closure of a Bidvest depot. Much of the focus is round the move from six warehouses as distribution outlets under Bidvest to just one with the move to DHL and the fact it is a complex and highly time-sensitive process. Given DHL only took over on February 14, the speed and unravelling of this disaster has been incredible.

Many people have called the police to report this crime against the availability of fast food, specifically fried chicken. Three police forces have issued requests not to contact them over KFC restaurant closures. Police in Tower Hamlets were so overwhelmed with calls about the unforeseen closure of KFC outlets, they tweeted “Please do not contact us about the #KFCCrisis - it is not a police matter if your favourite eatery is not serving the menu that you desire." Social media has also been alive with #kfccrisis trending on Twitter.

We’ve also seen press about the great business many other less well-known fried chicken outlets have been doing whilst so many KFC outlets are closed. They have reported business is booming with the competition effectively out of the game while the supply problems are addressed. Other fast food outlets have also reported particularly strong sales whilst KFC have had to deal with these problems; there is no doubt we like our fast food.

In the case of any corporate disaster, it’s absolutely essential that the PR machine behind any business kicks in and seeks to ease the situation and reassure its customers and stakeholders. Many have failed to do so with disastrous results; during the horrendous BP pollution disaster in 2010, we saw BP CEO Tony Hayward state "There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I'd like my life back." This is after 11 workers died and millions of gallons of oil polluted the oceans for 87 days. He instantly became the most hated man in America and within a year he was gone. It’s an example of the worst way to deal with such a situation.

Of course the KFC problem is not on the same level of the BP disaster; however it remains as important for organisations to send out the right message in dealing with a crisis. KFC have responded with great humour with their apology, publishing a photo of an empty bucket with the letters KFC re-arranged as “FCK”. Their humour and acknowledgement of the mess has been well-received and there is no doubt this will help them put the “chicken drought” behind them and move forward.

On a serious note, what is truly incredible is how a global business like this could get things so wrong on such a huge scale. Changing their distribution supplier was a huge decision for KFC and risk management must have been central to their plans. It raises huge questions around the assessment of their new supplier, operations management, their capability to deliver this contract, the transitional plans between moving suppliers, the rigorous processes and standards that need to be maintained and the risk assessment and costs of getting things wrong. It is a text book case on the consequences of poor planning and the need for robust risk management in any business. This disaster highlights that every business, whatever the size, needs to always demonstrate a thorough and comprehensive approach to planning and risk management, particularly when significant changes are made.