We Finally Know Why KFC Is So Cheap

With his signature goatee and glasses, immaculate white suit, and a classic Western bowtie, Colonel Sanders was destined for fame — and he brought KFC along for the ride. In 1930, Sanders started selling his fried chicken out of a roadside motel that he bought in Kentucky (via Global KFC). Today, KFC has more than 25,000 locations in over 145 countries around the world. KFC's bucket of fried chicken has become iconic, its red and white stripes like a fragmented reflection of the American flag, synonymous with our deep love of crispy, indulgent abundance.

Part of KFC's magic is its inexpensive menu. For just under five bucks, you can score an extra crispy chicken sandwich with pickles on a brioche-style bun. For just a couple of bucks more, you can get a two-piece combo with a biscuit and a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. How is it that KFC can offer solid meals like this for such good prices? We did a little digging, and some of the answers might surprise you. Now we finally know why KFC is so cheap.

Pot pies are made with leftover chicken

There are few dishes more filling and satisfying than chicken pot pie. KFC's version has juicy chunks of potatoes and tender pieces of chicken, bathed in a creamy sauce with peas and carrots. It is wrapped in pastry dough and baked until golden brown, making it hearty and delicious. It makes perfect sense for KFC to cook up their own version of chicken pot pie — it's a classic dish that many Americans enjoy. How does KFC pull off selling it for only five bucks a pop?

As it turns out, the chicken in KFC's pot pie isn't exactly cooked to order. According to an alleged former manager on Reddit, KFC's chicken pot pies are made from the chicken leftover after the restaurant closes. Apparently, it seems that pieces of unsold chicken are deboned and shredded, then bagged for future pot pie prep. If that weirds you out, just be happy that you aren't eating chicken pot pie from the days of the Roman Empire, when living birds would burst out from the crust upon being served (via Smithsonian Magazine).

KFC uses instant potatoes

Who doesn't love mashed potatoes? Mashed potatoes are creamy, filling, easy to eat, and can work as a side for just about anything. It's no wonder they're the number one way we prefer to cook our spuds (via Idaho Potato). Add a little butter and some gravy and voilà — you have a humble yet highly satisfying dish.

While there's no doubt that making mashed potatoes from scratch is easy, it's often a bit time-consuming. For this reason, it can be a lot more profitable for restaurants to use instant potatoes instead of buying fresh potatoes and making fresh batches from scratch — and that's exactly what KFC does. According to alleged employees on TikTok and Reddit, KFC adds packets of "KFC One Step Mashed Potato Mix" to hot water and then stirs it all up until it has thickened. A peek at the nutritional label for KFC's gravy shows about 25 ingredients, indicating that its gravy is also of the instant variety. Because using instant potatoes is affordable and efficient, KFC is able to keep prices nice and cheap.

It uses frozen biscuits

Ah, the biscuit — another widely beloved baked good. Fluffy, buttery, and highly versatile, the biscuit can be the star of the show or it can quietly take the backseat. It can be a vessel for breakfast sandwiches, featured as a side for just about any entrée, and works wonders in strawberry shortcake. The downside? Making biscuits from scratch can be tedious and labor-intensive — qualities that aren't exactly beneficial for profit margins.

As a result, it appears that KFC cuts some corners by using frozen biscuits. An alleged KFC employee on Reddit fessed up and claimed that KFC's biscuits come frozen in a box. Apparently, all employees have to do is slide them into the oven for a few minutes and add some butter. By removing a lot of the prep work that would go into making fresh biscuits from scratch, KFC simplifies the process by having them pre-made and oven-ready. Doing this allows the restaurant to easily keep up with demand and ensures an affordable price point. Even though KFC's biscuits are pre-made, at just under a buck, you have to admit that's still a pretty solid deal.

KFC often pays low wages

With around 25,000 locations worldwide, KFC is a mammoth in the fast-food industry (via KFC Global). Running an operation that big requires an enormous labor force — and our cravings for KFC's secret recipe blend of 11 herbs and spices entirely depends on them. After all, without the hard work of KFC's labor force, nothing would get cooked or served. In turn, we'd never get to sink our teeth into the company's world-famous fried chicken.

At the end of 2021, Yum Brands, the parent company that owns KFC, reported nearly $2 billion in revenue (via CNBC). You'd think with an impressive number like that, the average hourly pay at KFC would be more than about $10 an hour (via Payscale). There's no doubt that an average wage of around ten bucks an hour in today's economy is quite low, especially considering the average hourly wage for all US workers is over $26 an hour (via Trading Economics). By paying its labor force low hourly wages, KFC is maximizing its profit margin and keeping its menu prices cheap.

It uses a lot of plastic

As a gigantic company with its footprint scattered across the globe, there's no doubt that KFC uses a lot of plastic, as most restaurants do. Between utensils, food packaging, and the plastic bags used for delivery and takeout, all of that plastic adds up. Like many restaurants, KFC uses plastic to keep costs down. Even though plastic is cheap, however, there's a steep environmental price for its convenience.

According to NPR, even though most of us have been led to believe that plastic is effectively recycled, the reality is that most of it gets buried, burned, or ends up in the ocean. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that out of the 7 billion tons of plastic waste that's been generated, less than 10% has been recycled (via UNEP).

The good news is that KFC has made a commitment to make improvements by 2025 (via Environmental Leader). The company has set a respectable goal to find sustainable packaging alternatives and reduce waste, granting franchisees the freedom to develop their own "sustainability agenda." Upgrading to more environmentally friendly packaging may end up costing money, but that doesn't necessarily mean those costs will be passed on to consumers. Some businesses are determined to pay for these changes themselves and feel that customers shouldn't have to foot the bill (via BBC).

KFC uses pre-made macaroni and cheese

Macaroni and cheese might be the ultimate comfort food. It doesn't get much better than a warm bowl of creamy, cheesy noodles. Gooey and unctuous, the beauty of macaroni and cheese is its simplicity: Just a handful of ingredients can be quickly transformed into a delicious dish that coats your mouth and warms the soul.

Even though making macaroni and cheese from scratch is pretty straightforward, a lot of restaurants still take the easy way out and get it pre-made from a distributor because it's more cost-effective — and that also seems to be the case for KFC. Taking a look at the nutritional label for the macaroni and cheese on KFC's online menu shows around 50 ingredients, which is a pretty good indication that it's not being made fresh from scratch. Even though mac and cheese is easy to make, ingredients like cream and fresh cheese tend to be pretty pricey. By cutting down on prep time for its macaroni and cheese, KFC is taking a cost-effective approach that keeps prices cheap.

It uses cheap oil

KFC is in the business of fried chicken and making that chicken nice and crispy takes a whole lot of oil. Different types of oil have different profiles: Some are more heart-healthy and expensive, while others are cheap but less healthy. According to KFC's website, the company uses a mix of canola and soybean oil, which are some of the cheapest cooking oils on the market (via Pitco). Not only are these oils cheap, but they also have high smoke points. The smoke point for soybean sits at 450 degrees Fahrenheit and canola is just below 400 degrees Fahrenheit (via Serious Eats). Even though these oils aren't exactly the healthiest, their high smoke points and affordability make them essential for a company that's cooking up big batches of fried chicken.

Of course, there are healthier alternatives, but they are much more costly. Avocado oil, for example, also has a high smoke point, but it's much more heart-healthy (via WebMD). That said, according to NBC News, avocado oil tends to be a lot pricier because it's produced in much smaller amounts compared to other oils. By choosing cheaper oils on the market like canola and soybean oil, KFC is making an economical choice that helps the company keep its fried chicken affordable.

KFC uses pre-packaged cookies

A cookie is the perfect little treat at the end of a good meal. There's no doubt that the chocolate chip cookie, which is the cookie that KFC offers its diners, is one of the most popular cookies in America. For this reason, it makes sense for KFC to feature them on its menu. Here's the problem: apparently, KFC used to bake its chocolate chip cookies fresh in stores, but according to some disgruntled folks on Reddit, the company has started selling pre-packaged cookies wrapped in plastic.

It's easy to understand their complaints. There really is a vast difference between a freshly baked cookie and pre-made cookies that tend to be stale and crumble to pieces. However, the reality is that it's probably much cheaper for KFC to ship out pre-made cookies than it is to send out dough that needs to be baked in the oven. To keep the price of its cookies cheap, it seems that KFC is rolling out pre-made cookies at some of its restaurants. And let's face it — most people probably aren't heading to KFC for dessert — they're most likely hitting it up for some of its famous fried chicken. But don't worry: If you're really missing those fresh cookies, we have a pretty delicious solution for you.