El Pollo Loco has a beef with KFC's grilled chicken

The Costa Mesa-based restaurant chain says competitor KFC uses beef products in the marinade for its grilled chicken, and plans to play up that fact in a new advertising campaign.

June 13, 2009|Jerry Hirsch

Here's the beef: It's in KFC chicken.

The marinade on the chain's new grilled chicken contains beef powder and rendered beef fat. And competitor El Pollo Loco wants you to know every finger-licking detail.

The plucky Costa Mesa restaurant company is making those beef byproducts the centerpiece of a new advertising campaign tweaking KFC.


April 18, 2013: The web address given for the El Pollo Loco commercial,, is no longer used by the company.

"The use of beef ingredients in grilled chicken just seems wrong to me, and we believe most consumers would agree," said Steve Carley, chief executive of El Pollo Loco. The Southern California chain learned that KFC was using beef thanks to a customer's tweet to El Pollo Loco's Twitter account.

In one television commercial, Carley stands in a cow pasture and talks about a "fun fact" concerning KFC's grilled chicken, then discloses the beef ingredients.

KFC pitches "a new secret blend of herbs and spices" when it talks about its recently introduced grilled chicken. To learn what's in that secret blend, consumers have to turn to Page 14 of a 37-page ingredient document posted by KFC on its website.

That disclosure is "more than adequate," said Rick Maynard, a spokesman for the Louisville, Ky., chain, which has 5,200 restaurants nationally.

"Small amounts of beef flavors are commonly used in seasonings for many food products, for both restaurant and retail use," Maynard said.

"For Kentucky Grilled Chicken's topical seasoning, beef flavors account for only 0.2% of the total seasoning," he added.

El Pollo Loco, with 418 stores, thinks many chicken lovers won't like that. Starting Monday, it plans to spend several hundred thousand dollars advertising KFC's ingredients in 13 television markets, including Southern California.

Carley said his company's chicken was marinated in herbs, spices and fruit juices -- but no beef -- and cooked over an open flame. He also says that KFC's chicken isn't even grilled but rather is cooked in a closed oven.

Maynard said KFC restaurants had "grill racks inside ovens" that, combined with the spices and the cooking process, replicated "grilled chicken that tastes" as good as "what comes off the backyard grill."

Video of the new El Pollo commercial can be found at

KFC launched its grilled chicken in April as an alternative to its higher-fat fried fare.


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