Fast-food nation: KFC bucks trend with 9,000 new jobs

Britain's employment map transformed as recession-hit consumers trade down
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The Independent Online

The fast-food outlet KFC it is to create up to 9,000 jobs, providing further evidence that British consumers are opting for cheaper ways of dining out during the recession.

The chain of fried chicken stores, which currently employs about 20,000 people in its 760 British stores, said it was making an investment of up to £150m in an expansion drive that will see it open between 200 and 300 restaurants in the next three to five years.

It is the latest high-street fast-food chain to defy the economic downturn with expansion plans after seeing sales in 2009 show a 14 per cent rise on last year. A new drive-through store which opened last month broke the company's record for sales in an opening week, taking £100,000.

Other fast-food stores, takeaway chains and budget supermarkets have been expanding their slice of their respective markets as shoppers tighten their purse strings. Last month, the sandwich chain Subway announced plans to open 600 stores in the UK and Ireland, creating 7,000 jobs.

The pizza delivery service Domino's recently announced that its sales for last year had increased by 10 per cent as more Britons chose to buy take-away food rather than dine out to cut their outgoings. McDonald's saw European sales increase by 7.6 per cent during the last quarter of 2008, in the midst of the credit crunch. The budget supermarket Lidl also revealed it was expanding its operations in Britain earlier this month. It is opening 50 stores and creating 2,000 jobs after experiencing its most successful Christmas ever, with takings at the "no frills" store increasing by more than 11 per cent last month.

KFC will open most of the stores in north England and south Wales, while some of the investment drive will go towards refurbishing its current outlets. Some of the new stores will be franchises, with each store employing between 25 and 40 people.

"There aren't many companies who can be so positive in this market so we are delighted to be able to announce this significant investment," said Martin Shuker, the firm's UK chief executive. "Our growth strategy demonstrates the strong demand from our customers; consumers clearly still want great quality food but at reasonable prices and that is exactly what we provide."

The announcement has also led to fears that more skilled jobs are being replaced by unskilled, part-time positions. Many of the new jobs will be for workers earning the minimum wage of £5.73 an hour. It came soon after the car maker BMW revealed that it was axing 850 jobs at its Mini construction plant in Cowley, Oxfordshire. It is predicted that about 6,750 of the new jobs at KFC will be among bottom level "team members", such as chefs and cashiers.

The TUC's general secretary, Brendan Barber, said the Government should guard against the development of a trend towards the replacement of skilled jobs with unskilled and low-paid positions. "It's encouraging that profitable companies are using their wealth to create new jobs, rather than hoarding it amongst shareholders," he said. "Skilled jobs should lie at the heart of the economic recovery and it's vital that the Government creates incentives for companies to bring more high-skilled work into the UK."

Mr Shuker said there would be some skilled jobs included in the KFC expansion. About 900 manager and assistant manager positions will also be created.

"What we do is encourage as many people as we can to come and work at KFC and develop their career," he said.