Tuesday, September 4, 2012

KFC "Chicken Littles" (Ever Get The Feeling You've Been Cheated?)

In the fall of 1991, the USA basketball team that would compete at the 1992 Summer Olympics was revealed. It included Michael Jordan, the greatest player to ever play the game, and ten other professionals, all of whom are currently enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame. The team quickly became known as the "Dream Team" and it lived up to the hype: the closest game they played during the Olympics was the gold medal game. They won by 32 points.

For my birthday that summer I received the "Triplecast" from my parents, meaning I got to watch as much of the Olympics as I wanted. I watched every minute of every one of the Dream Team's games. They were, to put it simply, the best team I have ever seen in any sport, and no one else is remotely close. They were better at basketball than almost any group of people have ever been at anything. A decade later, the basketball writer David Aldridge perfectly summed up that team's performance: "It was dizzying, it was spectacular, it was five guys playing against the game of basketball, not their opponent."

And then a funny thing happened. Two years later, for the 1994 FIBA World Championships, another team of NBA players was put together. There was no Jordan, nor Magic, nor Bird, nor Barkley. There was Derrick, as in Coleman, a player who made exactly one All-Star team in a 15-year career. And there was Dan Majerle and Mark Price and a handful of other players who were all quite good compared to anyone who has ever played the game, but who didn't exactly captivate the world. 

But what did they call that team? Dream Team II. Wait a second, I remember thinking, how they hell can they call this a Dream Team? Whose dream has Shawn Kemp at forward? Two years later, at the 1996 Olympic Games, we were again subjected to a Dream Team, this time Dream Team III. It became apparent that all a team needed to be called a "Dream Team" was to be stocked with NBA players. 

But I never bought that. It made me angry then and it still annoys me all these years later. There was only one Dream Team and calling anything else by that name is disrespectful to the former and unfair to anything that came after. In a slick attempt to fool people who didn't know any better, someone had decided the label "Dream Team" was a flexible term that could be applied to anyone in an attempt to sell a few t-shirts.

Why do I bring this up?

I'll tell you in a couple of minutes.

I can't be 100% sure of this, but I am willing to bet that at some point during that summer of 1992, between the Dream Team's games at the Tournament of the Americas through the Olympics, I wandered up to the KFC (or more likely had one of my parents drive me) so that I could get 6 or 8 or 10 Chicken Littles and snack on them during one of the games. 

As I have written here in past posts. I loved Chicken Littles as much as any fast food product (save Jack in the Box's toasted raviolis) when I was a kid. Here is what they looked like: 

Thin, crispy little chicken patties on buttery soft buns, with a peppery mayo, always more than was necessary. Rarely has there ever been a better culinary example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. If the patty were any thinner it would have had one side; more often than not the bun was too thick and drowned out the taste of the chicken. 

But they were addictive. KFC Chicken Littles are one of those few things from my childhood whose mention can light up another person's eyes: 

"Oh yeah! I used to be in a band, and after practice we would each order 20 of them." 

"If I could have them in front of me right now, I would pay ten dollars each to eat them." 

"If there was only one thing I liked about high school, it was that there was a KFC just down the street and whenever I felt like I couldn't take it anymore I would get stoned and go eat Chicken Littles."

All three of those are real quotes from people.

The above picture is one I took in 2009, the last time I ever saw the Chicken Littles, at a KFC in Arcadia that no longer exists. I wrote a little bit of a tribute to the Littles, something that has been viewed by thousands of people. There is not a day that goes by that people don't discover this blog because of that post. 

A Facebook page was created, begging KFC to bring back Chicken Littles, and they used some of my pictures from this blog as their main photo. More than one person has asked me if that bothers me. Fuck no. I am honored that my photos can be enlisted in the fight to bring these babies back. 

So it was with no small amount of enthusiasm when I heard the other day that KFC had some upcoming "big news about a little something." The word "little" jumped right out at me. And then I read the press release that Chicken Littles were returning.

My heart sank when I read the description: they are a KFC extra-crispy strip on a mini-bun with pickles and mayo.

If you remember Chicken Littles, you already know next words I am going to write: These are not Chicken Littles. I cannot remember a more deceptive advertising campaign. (Have you ever seen one of those Camel cigarette ads from the 40s and 50s, talking about how doctors prefer smoking Camels? The person who invented that ad would take a look at KFC and say: "Wow, they're calling these Chicken Littles? That's fucked up.")

But they still deserved a try, so I traveled to KFC to pick some up.

I'll cut to the chase: these are Snackers. Remember those? KFC introduced them in 2005, they were a chicken strip on a tiny bun and I hated them. These are the same thing. The bun may be a little different and a pickle may have been added, but this is one of KFC's crappy, rubbery chicken strips on a small bun.

I ordered two and the girl behind the register looked confused. I pointed at the menu board with the Chicken Littles on it. She still looked confused, and she called the manager over.

"I want two Chicken Littles," I said.

"The meal or the sandwiches?" he asked.

"Just the Chicken Littles by themselves," I replied.

He turned to the guys working in the kitchen: "TWO SNACKERS!"

I kid you not. You can't make this stuff up.

(I wasn't upset; he appears to be the most honest person working for KFC.)

So this is what they were: KFC's chicken strip, which I don't like, on a bun that was several days past fresh. I don't know how they pulled that off, since I bought these things on the day they came out, but at this point nothing surprises me with KFC. They have displaced Burger King as my least favorite fast food franchise, which is quite an accomplishment.

The pickles on this thing were actually damn good - crunchy and fresh. But that was little comfort.

In 2004, a dozen years after the one and only Dream Team trounced its competition in Barcelona, the United States sent a team to Athens based on a flawed idea: that any collection of NBA players would bring home a gold medal. The team contained no real point guard and (arguably) no true center. To the surprise of no one, the team became the first - and to this date only - Olympic basketball team comprised of professionals to fail to win a gold medal. Outside of 2004, USA basketball has lost two Olympic games in its entire history. That 2004 team managed to lose three. And yet some people still called it a Dream Team.

That team was no more a "Dream Team" than these are "Chicken Littles." 

These are pieces of KFC chicken on a small bun, and that is where the similarity ends. It's like pretending Mitt Romney is Abraham Lincoln because he is the Republican nominee for President; it's like pretending Jersey Shore is The Godfather because it's about Italians.

Maybe I'm taking this too seriously. After all, it's just a $1.49 chicken sandwich. (They are advertised as $1.29 everywhere, but in Brooklyn they cost $1.49. Whatever; on the list of things I am angry at KFC about, twenty cents is pretty far down.) But it's the principle that bothers me. KFC is obviously trying to capitalize on a product that has a "cult following" (their words in the press release) by releasing an inferior product with the same name, hoping we won't notice or care. 

And maybe most people won't care. But I do. And I bet those of you who remember the real Chicken Littles, those of you who have found my blog over the years because of what I wrote about Chicken Littles, those of you who create Facebook pages and sign petitions, will indeed care. 

KFC wants your business enough to bring back something called Chicken Littles. They just don't want your business enough to bring back the actual Chicken Littles. And until they do, they will never get my business again.

Some things were one of a kind and if you can't replicate them, their name should be retired. Releasing these little sandwiches and not calling them what they are - Snackers - is bad enough. But releasing them and trying to fool everyone by giving them the exact same name as one of the greatest fast food items in history, the only good item your company has ever produced, is a disgrace.


Anonymous said...

God bless you sir! Nothing better than a good ol' fashioned rant against the corporate marketing machine to get my week started...
Seems like KFC has taken a page out of the ESPN spin manifesto: Say something enough times and it must be so

Anonymous said...

sorta similar- when they started calling this summer's US gymnastic girls the "fab 5" i was like huh?!

JustinM said...

But at least Juwan Howard was on that gymnastics team. (I don't watch gymnastics so I'm not actually 100% sure of that.)

BoB said...

Thank you for reviewing this new product so quickly!

Lindsay said...

So this is is exactly what happened yesterday. Saw the commercial on tv, immediately told my husband, "Justin is going to be so excited! He loved Chicken Littles!" I then looked closer, saw they resembled the old CL's in no substantial way, and revised my opinion to knowing you'd be pissed. Why yes, we do talk about you as if we know you in my home!

JustinM said...

Damn, I'm flattered Lindsay. I don't even think my parents talk about me when I'm not there.

Emily said...

I also saw the press release and immediately thought of emailing you to check you knew about the horrific lies KFC were spreading. And then I thought, 'Nah. Of COURSE he already knows.'

Also MAN that bun looks dry and gross.

JustinM said...

I was just thinking about you a couple of days ago at dinner. You will see why in a few days.

Charlotte said...

Ahh, you know you are a true Little fan when you remember the last time you ever saw one. It's just...they could sell a billion of these if they brought the REAL Little back and marketed them on nostalgia. I think it's the whole obesity epidemic has something to do with it. Psychologically, a "chicken strip" is more appealing than a square processed chicken patty and that's fine, great, wonderful. Just don't pretend that the REAL Littles ever existed or that we're somehow to stupid to know the difference. It's a lie, a cheap lie. Pffft. You're not taking it too seriously! Maybe I am though lol.

JustinM said...

I don't think people who are really concerned about obesity would ever eat at KFC in the first place. I think this is just laziness on KFC's part: they don't have to come up with anything new, they don't have to find someone to provide the old buns or square chicken patties. As I wrote, they only want to make so much effort. They want the press that comes with the whole "Chicken Littles Are Back" thing - they just can't be bothered to bring back the actual Little.

Anonymous said...

I really wanted a chicken sandwich for dinner tonight. I stopped at KFC for a "treat". I will not go back for the "chicken littles". I got "tricked"!
Stale bun and no flavor to the chicken. I laughed when I read the blogger...the pickles were the best...that is exactly what I thought. Not worth the money, time or calories.

m1keyLikes said...

Awesome blog my friend. I have heard from several people that there are KFC's in Los Angeles still serving the real deal Chicken Littles. If anyone knows of these locations, please let me know as I will drive there immediately. I also enjoyed their chicken nuggets from back in the day as well...

JustinM said...

Thanks. I don't know if there are any of those left... after the KFC in Arcadia stopped serving them I tracked down several KFC's where I'd heard rumors they still served them... all of them said no, the bun manufacturer was out of business and they wouldn't be getting any more. Now, this was almost three years ago, so I can't be sure.

Anonymous said...

Oh my lord, Justin. I had a very similar experience today. I wanted my flat, square-shaped processed deliciousness. I instead got a marked-up Snacker. F*ck KFC.

JustinM said...

Although I too often like to edit the swear words, in this case it's appropriate: Fuck KFC. If they have this much contempt for their customers, I have nothing but contempt for them.

futra1 said...

No peppery mayo either? Fudgcicles!

Anonymous said...

I was appalled when I saw the commercial. THOSE THINGS ARE NOT CHICKEN LITTLES. I'm glad that there are others upset by this. I loved those sandwiches as a kid. We used to get coupons for a free Chicken Little from school for some reward. I was devastated when way before 2009 out local KFCs stopped selling them.

MK said...

Chicken Littles bring back the best memories! I remember enjoying those little bad boys for the low low price of 49cents :-) I knew (before I saw the commerical) that it would be too good to be true. I experienced the same disappointment when I found a up and running Pioneer chicken; it just wasn't the same.

christa said...

i'm currently eating this new non-chicken little after moving to a house where KFC is the closest establishment. 10 years ago i called every single KFC in my county to find which ones had chicken littles, and i found one that i drove 20 mins to frequent. well, this evening after moving i suggested that he check to see if they have chicken littles, and to please get me 10. after he came home saying "they have them!!!" my heart skipped a beat. as soon as he grabbed one and set it on the counter i knew that i'd been had. i'm SO UPSET that they're calling these things "chicken littles"... totally mauling the chicken little name. i'm still eating them because they're fine for the most part... but i'm fucking pissed. fuck kfc and their shitty attempts at deception. i'm going to spread the word on their bullshit. ever think of creating a new facebook page calling them out? TOTALLY NECESSARY!

JustinM said...

I don't do Facebook. But if you want to start one, you are welcome to use any of my pics.

Kendra said...

Love your post. Those aren't Chicken Littles and they are disgusting. KFC needs to bring back the real littles. I refuse to eat there as well until they do!