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12 Finger-Lickin' Facts About KFC

For one thing, the Colonel is a real guy, and he and his Kentucky Fried Chicken have a long, illustrious history.

1. THE COLONEL HAD A TOUGH CHILDHOOD, BUT IT’S HOW HE LEARNED TO COOK.

Born in 1890, Harland Sanders was just 6 years old when his father died and he became responsible for looking after his younger siblings when his mother was forced to leave for days at a time to work in a canning factory. Young Sanders took over cooking in the Henryville, Ind. household—at least for the next few years. When he was 12, his mother married a man who disliked children, and Harland left to find a job on a farm. He kept up with schooling until seventh grade, at which point he became too frustrated with algebra and dropped out.

2. SANDERS STARTED SERVING HIS FAMOUS FRIED CHICKEN OUT OF A ROADSIDE SERVICE STATION.

For 25 years after leaving school, Sanders worked a series of odd jobs. By 1929 he was married with children, and Sanders opened a service station along Route 25 in Corbin, Ky. Still the family cook, he made some money on the side by selling hot meals to passing drivers. The simple Southern fare was so good that it quickly garnered local renown, earning Sanders the title of honorary colonel from the Kentucky governor in 1936 and a mention in Duncan Hines’s 1939 book Adventures in Good Eating. So he did away with the gas pumps and rebuilt the roadside business as a 142-seat restaurant and motel. This required Sanders to not only perfect the same secret chicken recipe still used by KFC today, but also to develop a method for quickly and consistently frying big batches of chicken.

3. ROAD RELOCATIONS FORCED SANDERS TO START FRANCHISING.

Sanders laid the groundwork for future franchising in 1952 when he met Pete Harman, a restaurant owner from Utah, at a food seminar. The two struck a deal, and Harman opened the first location called Kentucky Fried Chicken in Salt Lake City. Business boomed for Harman, especially after he invented the now-iconic to-go bucket; but back in Kentucky, changes to the road formations around Sanders's restaurant had resulted in less traffic and left his sales in the dust. So in 1956, the Colonel sold the Corbin location and decided to focus on franchising. Harman’s success had inspired a few interested franchisees, but at 66 years old, Sanders went on the road to drum up further interest. He brought a portable pressure cooker and a bag of seasoning from restaurant to restaurant, cooking for the staff and convincing them to buy into the company at a price of four cents for every chicken they cooked with his process.

4. WHEN SANDERS SOLD THE COMPANY, THE GRAVY CHANGED.

In 1964, less than a decade after branching out into franchising, there were already over 600 KFC locations in the U.S. and Canada. Sanders was 74 and still running the ship smoothly, but after months of wooing, he was convinced to sell the company to John Brown Jr. and Jack Massey for $2 million, an annual salary, and a position as the company’s adviser and spokesman. Sanders remained deeply involved and invested in the product and promotion until his death in 1980. (By the time he died, Brown had sold the company again and was governor of Kentucky.) But all his cursing and perfectionism couldn’t save his painstaking gravy.

“Let’s face it, the Colonel’s gravy was fantastic, but you had to be a Rhodes Scholar to cook it,” a company executive told The New Yorker in 1970. “It involved too much time, it left too much room for human error, and it was too expensive.” So the recipe was changed to the cheaper—though admittedly inferior—gravy they serve today.

5. IN FACT, SO MUCH CHANGED, SANDERS TRIED TO OPEN A COMPETING RESTAURANT.

After he sold the company, Sanders lived out the rest of his life as a KFC brand ambassador, but he didn’t always flatter the product he was supposed to be peddling—and it wasn’t just the gravy he complained about, either. In 1976, he visited a Greenwich Village location with a critic for The New York Times and declared it “the worst fried chicken I’ve ever seen.” (He called the gravy "wallpaper paste.") For their part, KFC maintained that the Colonel just wanted to keep standards as high as they had been when it was a small business. This may have been true, but it didn’t stop Sanders from trying to open a competing restaurant named Claudia Sanders: The Colonel’s Lady, after his second wife. KFC sued Sanders and the suit settled out of court for $1 million. (The restaurant still exists today as the Claudia Sanders Dinner House.)

6. THE CHICKEN RECIPE IS KEPT SECRET.

Super secret, in fact. During his lifetime, Sanders kept the blend of 11 herbs and spices first just in his own head and then written on a scrap of paper in his wallet. These days, the recipe is kept under literal lock and key at the KFC headquarters, with just a few select members of the company privy to the information and their names are never made public. Two separate suppliers are responsible for the blend so no outside sources are able to deduce the magic mixture.

The company never filed for a patent on the recipe because patents expire, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take legal action to keep the exact ratios and ingredients secret. In 2001, a couple living in Sanders’s former home found a handwritten note from the Colonel. They reached out to KFC with the intent of having it authenticated. Instead, they got sued. The company was afraid that the couple would sell the note and spill the secret. It was only after the note was inspected and found not to contain the recipe that the lawsuit was dropped.

7. …BUT THAT DOESN’T KEEP PEOPLE FROM TRYING TO REPLICATE IT.

Naturally, telling people they can’t have something—like the top secret recipe for fried chicken seasoning—only makes them more eager to get it. Plenty of people have tried to replicate the famous mix, but one man was particularly dedicated to the quest. Ron Douglas actually quit his finance management job to focus full-time on reverse engineering popular chain restaurant recipes, including KFC’s fried chicken. In 2009, Simon & Schuster published Douglas’ collection of America's Most Wanted Recipes with the KFC-dupe.

"The exact recipe has never been released," Douglas said at the time, "but mine comes really, really close. I kept trying, and with the help of the online community, we figured out a recipe that's so good most people can't tell the difference."

8. "KFC" DOESN’T STAND FOR ANYTHING. TECHNICALLY.

At least, not since 1991. Fried chicken never stopped being delicious, but in the early '90s as health-consciousness and diet crazes were on the rise, the company worried that the “fried” in Kentucky Fried Chicken was costing them valuable business. So they made a marketing decision to phase out the full name and become known exclusively by the acronym.

9. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE IT WHEN THE BRAND MESSES WITH THE COLONEL.

It doesn’t seem like Randy Quaid received much pushback when he voiced a cartoon version of the spokesman in 1999, but when the company revealed the new Colonel in the form of Darrell Hammond in May of this year, many people complained that wasn't the most respectful or accurate homage to the deceased Sanders. Even John Brown Jr., who once owned the company, weighed in, saying, "I think they are making fun of the Colonel. It is such a fascinating story, I hate to see them tarnish it." Regardless of whether or not they did so to appease the critics, KFC has already replaced Hammond—with yet another former SNL cast member, Norm Macdonald.

10. THE COLONEL IS THE STAR OF HIS OWN VIDEO GAME AND COMIC BOOK.

It seems that KFC has posthumously forgiven Colonel Sanders for all of his harsh words. This year, his likeness has starred in a video game called Colonel Quest and a graphic novel entitled KFC Presents: The Colonel’s Adventure Comics. Both riff on Sanders's real trials and tribulations before his late-in-life success.

11. IN JAPAN, KFC IS THE TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER.

The first KFC location in Japan opened in 1970. Soon after, company officials found out that foreigners in the country where Christmas isn’t a national holiday had defaulted to fried chicken when they couldn’t find turkey, and ad execs decided to run with it. In 1974, KFC had a campaign proclaiming “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) that was so successful it launched a national tradition. Decades later, Japanese families order their buckets of “Christmas Chicken” months in advance or face hours-long waits for a taste of quintessential “Americanness.”

12. KFC IS CONCERNED FOR YOUR SMARTPHONE.

The sort of messy finger food that KFC has always prided itself on isn’t necessarily a great match for the modern ubiquitous touchscreen device. And while customers could put down their phones for the duration of the meal, KFC is making it so they don’t have to. Earlier this year, the company rolled out a limited advertising campaign in Germany featuring the Tray Typer, a thin, durable, Bluetooth-compatible wireless keyboard that doubles as the lining on your fast food tray. This way, you can keep your fingers away from the phone while still accessing all your data.

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job secrets
13 Secrets of Halloween Costume Designers
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iStock

For consumers, Halloween may be all about scares, but for businesses, it’s all about profits. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend $9.1 billion this year on spooky goods, including a record $3.4 billion on costumes. “It’s an opportunity to be something you’re not the other 364 days of the year,” Jonathan Weeks, CEO of Costumeish.com, tells Mental Floss. “It feels like anything goes.”

To get a better sense of what goes into those lurid, funny, and occasionally outrageous disguises, we spoke to a number of designers who are constantly trying to react to an evolving seasonal market. Here’s what we learned about what sells, what doesn’t, and why adding a “sexy” adjective to a costume doesn’t always work.

1. SOME COSTUMES ARE JUST TOO OUTRAGEOUS FOR RETAIL

A woman models a scary nun costume for Halloween
iStock

For kids, Halloween is a time to look adorable in exchange for candy. For adults, it’s a time to push the envelope. Sometimes that means provocative, revealing costumes; other times, it means going for shock value. “You get looks at a party dressed as an Ebola worker,” Weeks says. “We have pregnant nun costumes, baby cigarette costumes.” The catch: You won’t be finding these at Walmart. “They’re meant for online, not Spencer’s or Party City.”

2. … BUT THERE ARE SOME LINES THEY WON’T CROSS.

Homeowners are scared by trick-or-treaters on Halloween
iStock

Although Halloween is the one day of the year people can deploy a dark sense of humor without inviting personal or professional disaster, some costume makers draw their own line when it comes to how far to exceed the boundaries of good taste. “We’ve never done a child pimp costume, but someone else has,” says Robert Berman, co-founder of Rasta Imposta, a business that broke into the industry on the strength of their fake dreadlock wig in 1992. Weeks says some questionable ideas that have been brought to the discussion table have stayed there. “There’s no toddler KKK costume or baby Nazi costume,” he says. “There is a line.”

3. THEY CAN DESIGN AND PRODUCE A COSTUME IN A MATTER OF DAYS.

A man models a costume in front of a mirror
Rob Stothard/Getty Images

A lot of costume interest comes from what’s been making headlines in the fall: Costumers have to be ready to meet that demand. “We’re pretty good at being able to react quickly,” says Pilar Quintana, vice-president of merchandising for Yandy.com. “Something happening in April may not be strong enough to stick around for Halloween.”

Because the mail-order site has in-house models and isn’t beholden to approval from big box vendors, Quintana can design and photograph a costume so it’s available within 72 hours. If it's more elaborate, it can take a little longer: Both Yandy and Weeks had costumes inspired by the Cecil the Lion story that broke in July 2015 (in which a trophy hunter from Minnesota killed an African lion) on their sites in a matter of weeks.

4. BEYONCE CAN HELP MOVE STALE INVENTORY.

A screen shot from Formation, a music video featuring Beyonce
beyonceVEVO, YouTube

Extravagant custom tailoring jobs aside, Halloween costumes are a business of instant demand and instant gratification—inventory needs to be plentiful in order to fill the deluge of orders that come in a short frame of time. If a business miscalculates the popularity of a given theme, they might be stuck with overstock until they can find a better idea to hang on it. “Last year, we had 400 or 500 Zorro costumes that we couldn’t sell for $10,” Weeks says. “It had a big black hat that came with it, and I thought, ‘That looks familiar.’ It turned out it looked a lot like the one Beyonce wore in her ‘Lemonade’ video.” Remarketed as a "Formation" hat for Beyonce cosplayers, Weeks moved his stock.

5. WOMEN DON’T USUALLY WEAR MASKS.

A man tries on a Joker mask at a retail store
Rhona Wise/Getty Images

Curiously, there’s a large gender gap when it comes to the sculpted latex monster masks offered by Halloween vendors: They’re sold almost exclusively to men. “There just aren’t a lot of masks with female characters,” Weeks says. “I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because men in general like gory, scary costumes.” One exception: Hillary Clinton masks, which were all the rage last year.

6. FOOD COSTUMES ARE ALWAYS A HIT.

A dog wears a hot dog costume for Halloween
iStock

At Rasta Imposta, Berman says political and pop culture trends can shift their plans, but one theme is a constant: People love to dress up as food. “We’ve had big success with food items. Bananas, pickles. We did an avocado.” Demand for these faux-edible costumes can occasionally get ugly: Rasta is currently suing Sears and Kmart for selling a banana costume that they allege infringes on Rasta’s copyrighted version, which has blackened ends and a vertical stripe.

7. ADDING ”SEXY” TO EVERYTHING DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK.

A packaged Halloween costume hangs on a store rack
Saul Loeb/Getty Images

It’s a recurring joke that some costume makers only need to add a “sexy” adjective to a design concept in order to make it marketable. While there’s some truth to that—Quintana references Yandy’s “sexy poop emoji” costume—it’s no guarantee of success. “We had a concept for ‘sexy cheese’ that was a no-go,” she says. “'Sexy corn’ didn’t really work at all. ‘Sexy anti-fascist’ didn’t make the cut this year.”

8. PEOPLE ASK FOR SOME WEIRD STUFF.

A person appears in a skull costume with glowing eyes for Halloween
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In addition to monitoring social media for memes and trends, designers can get an idea of what consumers are looking for by shadowing their online searches. Costumeish.com monitors what people are typing into their search bar to see if they’re missing out on a potential hit. “People search for odd things sometimes,” Weeks says. “People want to be a cactus, a palm tree, they’re looking for a priest and a boy costume. People can be weird.”

9. THEY HAVE WORKAROUNDS FOR BIG PROPERTIES.

Go out to a party this year and you’re almost guaranteed to run into the Queen of the North. But not every costume maker has the official license for Game of Thrones. What are other companies to do? Come up with a design that sparks recognition without sparking a lawsuit. “Our biggest seller right now is Sexy Northern Queen,” Quintana says. “It’s inspired by a TV show.” But she won’t say which one.

10. PEOPLE LOVE SHARKS.

Singer Katy Perry appears on stage with two dancing sharks
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

From the clunky Ben Cooper plastic costume from 1975’s Jaws to today, people can’t seem to get enough of shark-themed outfits. “We do a lot of sharks,” Berman says. “Maybe it’s because of Shark Week in the summertime, but sharks always tend to trend. People just like the idea of sharks.”

11. DEAD CELEBRITIES MEAN SALES.

A portrait of Hugh Hefner hangs in the Playboy Mansion
Hector Mata/Getty Images

It may be morbid, but it’s a reality: The high-profile passing of celebrities, especially close to Halloween, can trigger a surge in sales. “Before Robin Williams died, I couldn’t sell a Mork costume for a dollar,” Weeks says. “After he died, I couldn’t not sell it for less than $100.” This year, designers expect Hugh Hefner to fuel costume ideas—unless something else pops up suddenly to grab their attention. “Last year, when Prince died, that was almost trumped by [presidential debate audience member] Ken Bone,” Berman says. “He became almost more popular than Prince.”

12. THEY PROFIT FROM PEOPLE SHOPPING AT THE LAST MINUTE.

A man shops for Halloween costumes in a retail store
Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Ever wonder why food and other novelty costumes tend to outsell traditional garb like pirates and witches? Because costume shopping for adults is usually done frantically and they don’t have time to compare 25 different Redbeards. “People tend to do it at the very last minute, so we want something that pops out at them,” Berman says. “Like, ‘Oh, I want to be a crab.’”

Weeks agrees that procrastination is profitable. “We make a lot of money on shipping,” he says. “Some people get party invites on the 25th and so they’re paying for next-day air.”

13. IT’S NOT ACTUALLY A SEASONAL BUSINESS.

A woman shops for costumes in a retail store
Rhona Wise/Getty Images

Everyone we spoke to agreed that the most surprising thing about the Halloween business is that it’s not really seasonal on their end. Costumes are designed year-round, and planning can take between 12 and 18 months. “It’s 365 days a year,” Quintana says. “We’ll start thinking about next Halloween in December.” Weeks says he'll begin planning in May 2018—for Halloween 2019.

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This Just In
Target Expands Its Clothing Options to Fit Kids With Special Needs
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Target

For kids with disabilities and their parents, shopping for clothing isn’t always as easy as picking out cute outfits. Comfort and adaptability often take precedence over style, but with new inclusive clothing options, Target wants to make it so families don’t have to choose one over the other.

As PopSugar reports, the adaptive apparel is part of Target’s existing Cat & Jack clothing line. The collection already includes items made without uncomfortable tags and seams for kids prone to sensory overload. The latest additions to the lineup will be geared toward wearers whose disabilities affect them physically.

Among the 40 new pieces are leggings, hoodies, t-shirts, bodysuits, and winter jackets. To make them easier to wear, Target added features like diaper openings for bigger children, zip-off sleeves, and hidden snap and zip seams near the back, front, and sides. With more ways to put the clothes on and take them off, the hope is that kids and parents will have a less stressful time getting ready in the morning than they would with conventionally tailored apparel.

The new clothing will retail for $5 to $40 when it debuts exclusively online on October 22. You can get a sneak peek at some of the items below.

Adaptive jacket from Target.
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Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

[h/t PopSugar]

All images courtesy of Target.

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