Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Wrangham Conundrum

Whilst McDonald's and Burger King lurch from crisis to crisis, KFC marches relentlessly on unscathed whilst increasing its market share into the bargain. Having recently overtaken Burger King in the sales leagues, Martin Shuker, KFC's Chief Executive in the UK now has McDonald's in his sights, saying recently:

"I am confident and excited about our ability to grow to match McDonald's"

With only one negative trading year in the past 15 KFC has gone from strength to strength. We were unaffected by the BSE crisis of the 90s which caused our main rivals to haemorrhage customers that we happily welcomed into the fold. We were of course also unaffected by studies lambasting those who eat too much red meat as it's linked to cancer. After these two red meat centred scares there was much apostasy. We happily took the disenfranchised under our Hot Wing, inviting them along to one of our daily services and many converted. Such is the fervour of our believers that when our time came in the form of Avian Flu, this blight made little impact and the faithful still clamoured for their prayer buckets.

More recently, a new spectre has emerged to haunt us all, crossing all boundaries, obesity is the cholera of the fast food industry, no one is safe. Or are they? Step in Harvard's Dr Richard Wrangham and his research into the role of cooking in the evolution of man. His research inadvertently shed some light onto the looming obesity crisis that seems set to leave KFC above the waterline and all those who would stand in our way battered by a tide of criticism.

Originally his research was examining the role of cooking as a cause of evolutionary advancement from Homo Erectus to our present form Homo Sapien. Put simply, he theorises that cooking softens and breaks down food. Once cooked it is more easily digestible and that by expending less energy to get more out of our food, Homo Erectus' still meagre diet; could now (with the aid of the cooking process) provide more energy needed to power a more complex brain.

According to Wrangham the modern obesity crisis is caused not by overeating but by our increasing propensity for processed foods. In one of his experiments two groups of rats were fed different diets, one with hard food pellets and another on ground up and reconstituted softer pellets. Results were telling, those rats fed the same weight of food but in the softer pellet format were 30% heavier after 26 weeks.

Now, transpose those same theories onto our modern fast food industry. McDonald's and Burger King take beef and mince it, akin to mechanical mastication before reconstituting it into a very soft beef patty. KFC on the other hand uses whole unprocessed cuts of chicken which if Wrangham's research is correct will not be as fattening as our rivals beef burgers.

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