KFC Franchisee Can No Longer Serve Muslim Friendly 'Halal' Chicken

A long-standing, multi-unit Muslim franchisee lost his court battle last month when an Illinois federal judge ruled that he could no longer market and sell Halal chicken in his KFC restaurants, which he said had proven to be quite a lucrative business, especially in Muslim communities in Chicago.

Afzal Lokhandwala alleged in his lawsuit that the franchisor breached their franchise agreement by "unreasonably attempting to block him from telling customers that his KFC franchises offer Halal chicken," which refers to food that is prepared in accordance with Islamic laws and customs. He explained that when he opened his first franchise in 2002, he had discussed selling Halal chicken with KFC franchise director Ken Taft, who promised him that the company would allow him that privilege. He said Taft confirmed approval in an email in 2016, saying, "KFCC did indeed approve the use of Halal chicken."

Courthouse News reported that the franchisee said with KFC's "full knowledge and approval" he began marketing and selling his Muslim-version of chicken with Taft's help in finding a Halal-certified poultry processor. Lokhandwala said that several KFC executives regularly visited his first franchise location where he offered the Halal chicken. Lokhandwala opened seven more KFC restaurants beginning in 2006. He stated that he separated Halal and non-Halal products from each other, and he informed customers that they offered both methods of cooking. The lawsuit claims that KFC officials not only helped him find the Halal-certified processors and distributors, they also help him obtain the annual Islamic Society of Washington Area certificates.

In late 2016 or early 2017, KFC Corporation changed its course.

Based on its 2009 policy, the corporate office demanded that Lokhandwala stop marketing his products as Halal, saying franchisees are prohibited from making religious dietary claims about KFC products. They cannot offer Halal or Kosher foods for two reasons: People have different interpretations of what satisfies the corresponding processing requirements; and KFC cannot certify that restaurant preparation and cooking processes would not lead to cross-contamination between the Halal and non-Halal (or Kosher and non-Kosher) foods.

Judge John Robert Blakey wrote in his 14-page opinion, "Under the franchise agreement, defendant [KFC Corporation] has every right to bar plaintiff [franchisee] from advertising his products as Halal, even if defendant allowed that advertising in the past." He explained, "Advertising' means attracting the public's attention to something, usually to sell that something. Advertisements often contain truthful statements, such as a product's dimensions," Judge Blakey said. "The fact that plaintiff truthfully described his chicken products as Halal when he marketed them does not remove those communications from the advertising realm that defendant unambiguously has complete control over, per the franchise agreement."

Janet Sparks