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Is KFC's Bucket Half-Full or Half-Empty?

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Oct 25, 2016 at 10:16AM

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The Yum! Brands company faces a lawsuit that says it misrepresents its $20 Fill Up meal in ads.

Yum! Brands' (YUM -0.23%) KFC has joined a list of well-known fast-food brands on a dubious list. The company has become the latest restaurant chain to be accused of misrepresenting how much food is contained in certain offers.

KFC faces a lawsuit [opens in PDF] that was filed in a New York state court and then moved to federal court alleging that it misrepresents the contents of its $20 Fill Up meal in its ads. The complaint charges that the company shows an overflowing bucket of fried chicken in commercials for the deal, but that what you actually get does not match the pictures.

Essentially, the lawsuit, for which the New York resident filing the claim seeks $20 million, charges that the bucket of chicken delivered does not look like the one in the ad. The legal complaint acknowledges that the bucket contains eight pieces of chicken as advertised. It claims however that "the defendant delivered to plaintiff merchandise which was misleading and constituted a false and deceptive trade practice in that the advertisement on television showed a bucket overflowing with chicken."

The plaintiff further alleges that she called KFC's corporate office to complain and was told by a company representative that the images in the advertising were manipulated so that people could actually see the chicken, Consumerist reported. According to the lawsuit, that counts as deceptive advertising, in violation of New York consumer protection laws.

This bucket of chicken looks pretty impressive. Image source: KFC.

This is not unprecedented

While trying to get $20 million because a bucket of chicken looks skimpier in person than it did in an ad seems ridiculous, this type of lawsuit has become increasingly common. Subway recently settled a lawsuit that charged that its foot-long sandwiches were actually only 11 inches. To settle that case, the company agreed to take steps to ensure that future sandwiches were in fact 12 inches, Nation's Restaurant News reported.

In addition, Subway agreed to pay attorneys for the plaintiff's $525,000 legal costs. It will also pay $500 apiece for each of the 10 people who led the class action, but no money was paid to any of the other people who joined the suit.

Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) has also faced a number of lawsuits over whether it fills its drinks to advertised levels. The most recent involved cold drinks, but it was dismissed by a federal judge, who noted that even children realize that cold drinks have ice in them, which impacts the amount of liquid a drink contains. The company still faces a similar lawsuit over how it fills its hot drinks.

This is not a $20 million issue

It seems very likely that KFC positions its chicken in the bucket in its ads in order to make it look as appetizing as possible. That may be deceptive, but under that logic, most television ads deceive consumers on some level. That won't stop Anna Wurtzburger, the plaintiff in this case, from bringing her lawsuit.

"They say it feeds the whole family... They're showing a bucket that's overflowing with chicken," she told the New York Post. "You get half a bucket! That's false advertising, and it doesn't feed the whole family. They're small pieces!"

That might be true, but it's hard to see how a skimpy bucket of chicken deserves $20 million. Perhaps the lawsuit only seeks to shame KFC into changing its ads or make its actual product better reflect advertising, like what happened in the Subway case. 

The likely result here is probably closer to what happened in the Starbucks cold-drinks case. Consumers know what a piece of chicken looks like and most probably know what a piece from KFC looks like. It's hard to picture a judge humoring this case, let alone awarding $20 million. It's more likely that the lawsuit will get thrown out or settled, with the company agreeing to tone down its ads.

Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. He has never been unhappy with a bucket of fried chicken. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends SBUX. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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