'Healthy' Fast Food Eaters Mull the Salad, Buy the Fried
Companies like KFC know how to play to customers' cravings
By Amelia Atlas,  Newser User
Posted May 17, 2009 9:20 AM CDT
In this April 13, 2009 photo released by KFC, a two-piece meal with the new Kentucky Grilled Chicken product is shown, at a KFC location in Louisville, Ky.    (AP Photo/KFC, Brian Bohannon, File)
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(Newser) – KFC's grilled chicken giveaway may have been a bust, but the company actually got what it wanted—luring health-conscious eaters back to the franchise, argues Steve Almond in the Washington Post. The chicken chain's CEO appeared on Oprah to apologize for pulling the plug on the offer, yet "his 'apology' was more celebratory than contrite," reveling in the unexpected turnout. Among his new customers? Reformed KFC-devotee Almond.

A new study demonstrates an effect called "vicarious goal fulfillment," whereby even considering a healthy choice makes people feel justified in instead opting for the large fries. Fast food execs, says Almond, have understood this psychological dynamic for years. A chicken salad may get health-conscious customers in the door, but the fast-food kingdom's bread-and-butter is the not-so-healthy burger. And Almond would know—while he sampled KFC's grilled chicken, he also took away an 800-calorie meal of fried food and mac and cheese.