Here’s an anniversary for fans of chicken nuggets to celebrate: it’s been 50 years since the first KFC restaurant opened in the UK. For me, it’s merely an excuse to air a point about impressions versus facts.
KFC is not an outlet I notice very much. It doesn’t seem to be as ubiquitous as MacDonald’s or Starbucks. I think I’ve only eaten at a UK branch a couple of times in my life, the last occasion being a decade ago.
Yet when I was in India in 2013 I spotted quite a few, and even had supper in one (and before anyone thinks ‘how could he – with so much tasty Indian food around him?’ – in my defence it was a five week trip, I had proper Indian food for virtually every other meal, and just thought it might be a way of giving my stomach a break from spicy temptations).
So I picked up the impression that India and KFC have a fairly solid relationship, and that branches pop up all over the country..
But the statistic that counts is how many branches there are per head of population. And in a chart recently published in The Economist on the worldwide distribution of fast food chains, the KFC figure for India is just 0.2 per million people, compared to 12.2 per million in the UK.
It just shows that I, and others too, drift through our daily existences, brains on default mode, idly taking in the information we are fed and expending as little mental energy as possible to arrive at a conclusion which is highly misleading, and not backed up by the actual figures.
Now, having implied above that KFC’s reach in the UK is not as extensive as its American burger chain and coffee shop cousins, I’d better check the stats….
Well, my guess was partly wrong, partly right, but mostly wrong. While the 1200 odd branches of McDonald’s do indeed outgun KFC’s 800 or so, there are more of the fried chicken purveyor’s outlets on our streets than Starbucks coffee shops (which number around 640).
It’s not hard to find a reason for my erroneous India presumption, even if it doesn’t excuse it: I spent more time in the more prosperous, city centre areas that are likely to have Western fast food outlets than in those (much more numerous) poorer swathes of urban areas (and indeed rural ones) which are notable more for crowded masses of humanity than for their tourism potential, and are of course bypassed by KFC.