KFC for Christmas? How the fast-food chain became a holiday hit in Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken has become a huge hit in Japan during the Christmas season, with queues around the corner and huge sales. Japanese YouTuber Yoko Ishii told Fox News how the fast food chain has become a holiday phenomenon over the past 50 years.

KFC Japan registers its highest annual sales figures in the run-up to Christmas, with December 24 being the chain’s “busiest day of the year – 10 times busier than KFC Japan’s annual average,” according to the company’s website. Ishii said she and her husband separately witnessed the massive lines in their hometown of Fukuoka.

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“I was walking home and saw KFC inside the big [train] nearby station, and I saw the line,” Ishii told Fox News. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?'”

“I realized they were lined up for Kentucky for Christmas,” she said.

The US-based KFC restaurant chain began operations in Japan in 1970 and launched its first christmas theme marketing campaign four years later.

A statue of KFC’s Colonel Sanders in a Santa Claus outfit is seen in Tokyo, Japan on December 23, 2020
(Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

Ishii said she knew Kentucky’s slogan for Christmas as she grew up hearing it advertised on television. The origin of the campaign dates back to an unidentified stranger who visited a KFC restaurant in Tokyo on Christmas Day in the early 1970s, according to the KFC website.

“I can’t get turkey in Japan, so I have no choice but to celebrate Christmas with Kentucky Fried Chicken,” the customer remarked, according to KFC’s account. “A member of KFC Japan’s sales team heard the remark and was inspired by it to launch the first Christmas campaign and its slogan – Kentucky for Christmas.”

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KFC Japan first christmas meal consisted of a bucket – known as a “barrel” in Japan – of fried chicken and a bottle of wine, as well as a suggestion that the meal be enjoyed at a holiday party, according to the KFC website.

Since then, the annual report Christmas meal specials have widened. Many Japanese place Christmas orders with KFC months in advance, as queues at restaurants during the holidays often spill out onto city streets.

People line up outside a KFC on December 23, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

People line up outside a KFC on December 23, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.
(Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

KFC Japan raked in about 7.1 billion yen in 2019 (about $53 million in current US dollars), according to Shared Research.

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Many Japanese have embraced the commercial aspects of Christmas, even though only 1% of the population is Christian. Ishii said the Japanese people’s desire to assimilate foreign festivities into their lives has led Kentucky to Christmas success.

“I guess we’re just happy people celebrating whatever we can,” she told Fox News.

To learn more about how KFC implemented a sustainable Christmas marketing campaign in Japan, Click here.

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