By Candice Choi Associated Press
NEW YORK — In case Americans want to scarf down their fast-food even faster, KFC is stripping the bones out of its chicken.
The fast-food chain says it’s introducing deep-fried boneless chicken pieces on April 14 as an alternative to its traditional breast, thigh and drumstick pieces.
The new offering reflects the growing popularity of nuggets and strips that are easier to eat on the go, as well as Americans’ seemingly endless desire for more convenient foods. KFC says nearly four out of five servings of chicken sold in the U.S. are now boneless.
Based on customer trends, the chain says bones could eventually disappear from its menu.
“Younger people don’t tend to be fans of bones — they’ve grown up with nuggets,” said KFC spokesman Rick Maynard, referring to people in their 20s and 30s.
Although KFC has more than 18,000 locations worldwide, the boneless chicken will only be offered in its 4,500 U.S. locations.
The new chicken, which is skinless and comes in white or dark meat, are whole muscle pieces fileted off the bone and are about twice the size of KFC’s crispy strips. Customers will be able to order them for the chain’s meal deals, which include two pieces of chicken, a side, a biscuit and a drink for $4.99.
They also come in buckets, which include four pieces of boneless chicken and six pieces of breasts, thighs and drumsticks for $14.99. The boneless chicken option costs the same as the regular fried chicken.
A piece of the boneless white meat has 200 calories and 8 grams of fat. A dark meat piece has 250 calories.
Even before the latest launch, KFC had already been shifting its menu to more boneless offerings. It rolled out smaller chicken “Bites” last year, as well as “Dip’ems,” which are strips of chicken with a variety of sauces.
The chain had also been offering the chicken filets used in its sandwiches as a stand-alone, handheld option. The chain says those will be phased out and that the new boneless pieces will be used in sandwiches.
KFC says it took two to three years to develop its version of boneless chicken, which performed strongly in test markets including Oklahoma City and Omaha last year.
Like McDonald’s and Burger King, chicken chain Chick-Fil-A offers nuggets, strips and sandwiches but doesn’t list any chicken pieces with bones on its menu. Although McDonald’s recently tested chicken wings at select locations, the world’s biggest hamburger chain has also focused on convenient options such as its new chicken McWraps and chicken McBites that come in portable cartons.
Howard Penney, a food industry analyst for Hedgeye Risk Management, noted that KFC has been struggling in the U.S. and that it has nothing to lose with the latest move. Even in the wings category, Penney noted that boneless varieties have been growing in popularity.
“People don’t want to have to deal with the bones,” Penney said.
KFC is owned by Yum Brands Inc., which also operates Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.
Despite its choppy performance in the U.S., Yum has enjoyed a streak of growth for the past several years as a result of its growing presence in China. Yum is the largest Western fast-food operator in the country with about 5,300 locations, most of them KFC restaurants.
But since late last year, Yum has been working to overcome a scare over its chicken supply that has hammered sales in China. Yum, based in Louisville, Ky., has warned that it expects its profit in 2013 to decline, snapping an 11-year streak of double-digit growth.
Shares of Yum Brands fell $2.17, or 3.2 percent, to $65.58 in morning trading as broad market indicators sagged on weaker than expected U.S. job growth in March.