Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Top Secret

In this time of terror, security is more important than ever. Which is why one of this nation's most valuable treasures, and some say, most enduring secrets, will have nuclear-level guard when it is transferred to an undisclosed location today.

I'm talking, of course, about KFC's fried chicken recipe. The AP article, with my notations in bold:

KFC shoring up security for secret recipe

By BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Pssst. The secret's out at KFC. Well, sort of. Colonel Harland Sanders' handwritten recipe of 11 herbs and spices was to be removed Tuesday from safekeeping at KFC's corporate offices for the first time in decades. The temporary relocation is allowing KFC to revamp security around a yellowing sheet of paper that contains one of the country's most famous corporate secrets. The other one being, "What's at the center of a Tootsie Pop?"

The brand's top executive admitted his nerves were aflutter (who uses the word, "aflutter?") despite the tight security he lined up for the operation.

"I don't want to be the president who loses the recipe," KFC President Roger Eaton said. "Imagine how terrifying that would be." Yes, just imagine. Chaos. I can see Harrison Ford in the movie role.

So important is the 68-year-old concoction that coats the chain's Original Recipe chicken that only two company executives at any time have access to it. The company refuses to release their name or title, and it uses multiple suppliers who produce and blend the ingredients but know only a part of the entire contents. When either of the two executives resign and/or get fired, they are immediately killed.

Louisville-based KFC, part of the fast-food company Yum Brands Inc., hired off-duty police officers and private security guards to whisk the document away to an undisclosed location in an armored car. Coincidentally, the same undisclosed location Dick Cheney fled to on September 11th. The recipe will be slid into a briefcase and handcuffed to security expert Bo Dietl for the ride.

"There's no way anybody could get this recipe," said Dietl, a former New York City police detective. His security firm is also handling the security improvements for the recipe at headquarters, but he wouldn't say what changes they're making. Rumor has it that a giant trap-filled "Hypercube" will be constructed.

For more than 20 years, the recipe has been tucked away in a filing cabinet equipped with two combination locks in company headquarters. To reach the cabinet, the keepers of the recipe ("Keepers of the Recipe": sounds like a Lord-of-the-Rings-type job) would first open up a vault and unlock three locks on a door that stood in front of the cabinet. They then have to pass several tests. Only the penitent man may pass.

Vials of the herbs and spices are also stored in the secret filing cabinet. Which means that, thankfully, in case of a nuclear holocaust, future generations will still be able to enjoy the golden spicy deliciousness of KFC.

"The smell is overwhelming when you open it," said one of two keepers of the recipe in an interview at company headquarters. If it smells anything like this KFC, I feel bad for him:

The biggest prize, though, is a single sheet of notebook paper, yellowed by age, that lays out the entire formula — including exact amounts for each ingredient — written in pencil and signed by Sanders. It also includes an obscene, crudely-drawn doodle by Sanders of Wendy from the fast-food franchise of the same name, getting it on with the Hamburglar.

Others have tried to replicate the recipe, and occasionally someone claims to have found a copy of Sanders' creation. The executive said none have come close, adding the actual recipe would include some surprises. Like PCP.

Sanders developed the formula in 1940 at his tiny restaurant in southeastern Kentucky and used it to launch the KFC chain in the early 1950s.

Sanders died in 1980 (click it), but his likeness is still central to KFC's marketing.

"The recipe to him, in later years, was everything he stood for," said Shirley Topmiller, his personal secretary for about 12 years. He didn't have much else to stand for, apparently.

Larry Miller, a restaurant analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said the recipe's value is "almost an immeasurable thing. It's part of that important brand image that helps differentiate the KFC product." Am I the only one who sees the potential in a Kentucky Fried Chicken movie?

No, I don't mean this. I'm picturing a crime caper buddy comedy.

KFC had a total of 14,892 locations worldwide at the end of 2007. The chain has had strong sales overseas, especially in its fast-growing China market, but has struggled in the U.S. amid a more health-conscious public. And people who saw the above video. KFC posted U.S. sales of $5.3 billion at company-owned and franchised stores in 2007.
Well, I have my next project to work on. Starring Adam Sandler and Damon Wayans as two friends determined to steal the KFC recipe (which was originally Wayans's grandma's) from the corporate headquarters to hold it for ransom. Things go comically awry due to a hardnosed security guard (wrestling's The Rock) and a series of misadventures including stumbling onto KFC's other secret-- what KFC is really made of. Hint: it rhymes with "Soylent Green is People!!!"

Okay. Enough giving away my ideas for future blockbusters. Next time you go to KFC, just think of all the security that goes into making that piece of chicken. There's a little bit of the "Keepers of the Recipe" in each one.

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