Kenyans arm-twist KFC as food chain now pledges to source potatoes locally

KFC is the world's second-largest restaurant chain after McDonald's. [File, Standard]

International fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has announced plans to start sourcing potatoes from Kenyan farmers.

In an exclusive interview with The Standard on Tuesday, January 4, KFC East Africa market’s chief executive officer Jacques Theunissen said the franchise would still insist on high-quality potatoes while sourcing the produce locally.

“Although, we currently import our French fries, there is an opportunity to source the potatoes from a local supplier that meets the global KFC quality and safety specifications in the near future,” he said in an e-mail response.

Until now, KFC imports potatoes from Egypt, saying there’s no supplier in Kenya who trades large quantities of pre-cut sliced blanched frozen potatoes.

In an interview with the Business Daily on Monday, Theunissen said Kenyan farmers were yet to undergo training on producing potatoes that meet the standards set by the franchise.

“The reason we cannot buy local at the moment is all suppliers need to go through the global QA approval process and we cannot bypass that even if we run out to ensure that our food is safe for consumption by our customers,” he said.

The KFC East Africa boss, however, said that the business sources other food ingredients and raw materials from the Kenyan market. These include fresh vegetables, bread buns, packaging, flour and ice cream.

“At KFC Kenya, we work with a number of local Kenyan suppliers to serve our customers locally-sourced produce and ingredients in our restaurants,” said CEO Jacques Theunissen.

The fast-food chain was on the receiving end on social media early Tuesday after reports circulated that it was sourcing its potatoes externally despite excess supply in the country.

The hash tag “Boycott KFC” sprang to the summit of Twitter trends, with a majority of the at least 8,000 tweets sent out asking for KFC to relook into its potato acquisition policy.

In response, the CEO of KFC, East Africa, Theunissen, told The Standard: “Our customers can be assured that we will continue to serve them the same, great tasting products that they have come to love, every time.”

Theunissen said the potato shortage KFC experienced in Kenya would be resolved by Tuesday, January 4, saying scarcity of the produce had been occasioned by the Covid-19 crisis.

“It has to do with delays in shipping lines due to the Covid-19 situation. Ships have been delayed for more than a month now, but we are working hard to restore as the first containers are arriving in the port tomorrow (Tuesday, January 4),” he told Business Daily.

Other KFC meal products including ugali, buns, chicken and coleslaw were however available, the franchise said on Twitter.

The KFC potato shortage comes even as local farmers continue to struggle with an oversupply of the produce.

The National Potato Council of Kenya CEO Wachira Kaguongo on Tuesday told The Standard that Kenya produces at least 62 variety of potatoes that can meet the demands of KFC.

The farm gate price of the 90kg bag of potatoes recently hit an all-time low of between Sh450 and Sh600 in Molo, Nakuru County.

Nakuru County, according to the census results of 2019, had the highest number of households that grow potatoes. Other major potato-growing counties include Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kiambu, and Murang’a.

However, according to data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), a visualisation tool for international trade data, the main source of Kenya’s imported potatoes is the Netherlands, which supplies nearly 90 per cent of the tuber.

India was the largest source of imported potatoes globally, supplying 10.4 per cent of the food crop.

Potatoes are Kenya’s second most important food crop, after maize. The quantity of potatoes produced in the country decreased to 1.9 million bags last year from two million bags in 2019, official data shows.

However, a decline in effective demand due to job losses saw a kilo of the crop retail at an average price of Sh67.3 last year, a drop of 5.34 per cent from Sh71.1 in 2019.

“People who were eating out find it cheaper to eat from home,” said Timothy Njagi, a research fellow at Tegemeo Institute, a public policy think-tank.

However, the demand for potatoes in fast-food joints surged after the easing of the social distancing rules, peaking in December as Kenyans went for eat outs with friends and families.

KFC is an American fast-food restaurant chain headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky that specialises in fried chicken.

It is the world's second-largest restaurant chain after McDonald's, with 22,621 locations globally in 150 countries as of December 2019.

KFC began operations in Kenya in 2011.