The Real Reason People Stopped Buying KFC's Double Down

No buns. All meat. That was the proposed selling point of KFC's Double Down, the sandwich that consists of bacon, cheese, and sauce with two chicken fillets serving as the "bread" you grip. The concept was such that when the sandwich made its American debut in 2010, the amused-to-disgusted reviews descended, as Eater records in a media wrap up. The nicest of these was offered by Salon: "But, aside from greasier-than-normal fingers, it kind of doesn't work."

The only review still available in-full online comes from The Awl, which after noting that KFC had to clarify that the Double Down was not a caustic comment on fast food obsession in America, comments on how unbearably salty and overpowering the two hunks of chicken are; each sandwich's sodium content to hang around a whopping 1,328 milligrams. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends adults to limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day, though it also allows for a looser maximum of 2,300 daily.

Still, as Stuff reported in 2011, the image KFC has curated of fast food indulgence proves less extreme in the context of the industry. "There are a lot of things out there that are equally bad," Dr. Jan Pearson, the health promotion manager for the Cancer Society of New Zealand, explained. It had, for instance, fewer calories than a Whopper. However, the Double Down, especially when eaten with fries and a drink, lost that slight edge in the calorie department.

KFC's Double Down stayed longer than intended

Despite (or probably because of) the news coverage that emphasized the extravagant decadence involved in the Double Down, popular opinion embraced it. At least, popular opinion as measured by spending. Originally, the Double Down's run was meant as a specific, limited-time offer, according to a 2014 CNN piece that covered the month-long return of the Double Down. However, plans changed. "KFC sold more than 10 million in the first month when Double Down launched in 2010," Rick Maynard, KFC's spokesperson, revealed. "As a result of that popularity, the product remained on the menu past the end of the original promotional period."

The reason why the number of people purchasing Double Downs has declined, then, is simply that KFC stopped offering the sandwich. At the end of their piece, CNN theorizes that the Double Down may take on the status of a seasonal offering, like McDondald's Shamrock Shake for St. Patrick's Day. This hasn't been borne out however. Though the Double Down still makes the rounds (with one recent appearance being in the UK during the Fall of 2020, as Delish reported), it has yet to make consistent appearances or even to return to the United States since its 2014 run. This may be due to the fact that even though Maynard claimed good sales, another CNN piece from 2010 wrote that the Double Down only represented five percent of sales in its opening quarter when KFC wanted 10.

The stunt may have gone too far in America

We shouldn't write off the prospect of the Double Down returning to American KFCs, however. For one thing, the Double Down's latest selling period ran from February 15 to March 7 in Italy. "In this difficult year that we have all been experiencing due to the COVID emergency, we wanted to give a gift to KFC customers by relaunching the Double Down, the sandwich most awaited by our followers," Paolo Toffano, Head of Marketing & Communication for KFC Italy, explained in the company's press release.

So, while the Double Down hasn't attracted the sales required for it to join the revolving menu of seasonal offerings, it does exist as a potential stunt sandwich in a manner similar to McDonald's McRib. In their analysis of the Double Down's 2014 launch, The Motley Fool deems the Double Down to be perfect for this role. The Double Down is obviously a stunt, but it's a stunt that national media outlets across the globe cannot resist covering, as the various sources cited should indicate.

But with that said, KFC may keep the Double Down away from its American base due to concerns over its domestic competitor, Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A has yet to break the international market like KFC, as Business Insider writes, but in America, it's seen as a purveyor of real food, unlike KFC with its gimmicky Double Down. In other countries, KFC can be ludicrous because it's a weird American thing.