In late 2017, KFC in the UK worked in partnership with health food guru Figgy Poppleton-Rice to launch the "Clean Eating Burger", which featured flavourless chicken on a bed of 100 per cent British kale gently embraced by two halves of cauliflower.

The whole thing, including the famed Poppleton-Rice, was an absurd ruse, developed to draw attention to a barbecue-sauce-drenched burger called the Dirty Louisiana. Suffice to say there was no British kale or cauliflower involved in the making of this burger.

In doing this the company simultaneously slapped its competitors with a greasy drumstick while confirming to its legions of fans that It wasn't playing make-believe that it was anything but a guilty pleasure.

Given all claims and research suggesting millennials, in particular, are turning on unhealthy fast food, one would expect a company as single-minded as KFC to struggle commercially at a time when the world is changing.

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However, today's result from Restaurant Brands, which runs KFC stores in New Zealand and Australia, showed the company's New Zealand earnings lifted by 6.5 per cent to $75.8 million, largely due to the performance of its KFC business, which increased its earnings 7.4 per cent to $66m. Across all markets, Restaurant Brands also lifted its year-on-year profit by 37 per cent to $40.4m.

It's also noteworthy that Restaurant Brand shares have risen from $2.22 in 2011 to more than $7 today.

It would appear that despite the purported evolution of the modern palate, KFC remains as relevant as ever.

While the UK advertising campaign was a deliberate pronouncement of the brand's view on the healthy eating fad, the company hasn't exactly done a great job of hiding its almost contrarian position.

At numerous times during the 2010s, a time when other fast-food establishments were responding to the growing prominence of the clean-eating fad with items such as salads and kale milkshakes, KFC has brought back the bunless monstrosity called the Double Down.

A time when other fast-food establishments were responding to the growing prominence of the clean eating fad with items such as salads and kale milkshakes, KFC brought back the Double Down.
A time when other fast-food establishments were responding to the growing prominence of the clean eating fad with items such as salads and kale milkshakes, KFC brought back the Double Down.

Branding expert Paul Catmur told the Herald that the company is simply sticking to a tried-and-tested approach.

"Colonel Sanders stumbled on a formula which while it may not be particularly healthy is undoubtedly highly addictive," said Catmur who works as the chief executive at Barnes, Catmur & Friends Dentsu.

"The high salt content, the combination of flavours in the coating and the MSG produce a taste that people want more of regardless of how it might affect their overall wellbeing.

"All KFC need to do is to provide mental and physical availability, through plenty of stores and plenty of ads, after which they can sit back, fry chicken and enjoy the rewards."

Asked whether KFC should consider introducing a few healthier options for health-conscious consumers, Catmur wasn't convinced it would work.

"Addicts of whatever product, be it drugs, gambling or fried chicken, want their stimulus to be strengthened, not watered down, so having KFC Lite would serve little purpose," said Catmur.

KFC's parent company Restaurant Brands posted yet another strong result. Photo / File
KFC's parent company Restaurant Brands posted yet another strong result. Photo / File

There's no denying that New Zealanders are becoming more concerned about their food choices, but this concern doesn't always inform the decisions made at the retail point of sale.

A 2016 study conducted by research firm TRA found that while millennial consumers expect certain standards of brands in terms of ethical practices and animal rights, their shopping decisions don't always match up.

"When we looked at shopping logs, haul videos and weekly transactional spend, we saw a very different story play out," wrote TRA research consultant Jeremy McDonnell in an article based on the study.

"What we saw was that millennials will often put aside their allegedly strongly held attitudes in order to save a dollar, as opposed to voting with it."

McDonnell argued there's a significant disconnect between the public narrative and what consumers actually do in stores.

"These everyday purchases involve a surprisingly low level of consciousness, which contradicts the current cultural narrative depicting millennials as conscientious, informed buyers. They may talk the talk, but fail to walk the walk," he wrote.

The intoxicating aroma of KFC will likely continue to pull consumers out of their strong opinions and into the greasy embrace of fried chicken for some time, but consumer behaviour does have a tendency to change over time.

And with governments across the world already dabbling in ways to fight the obesity epidemic with regulation, that change could potentially be forced in the future.