They're the result of a whole new system in operation, and a harbinger of more innovations to come.
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Credit: KFC/Yum Brands

With all the fervor about a certain fried chicken sandwich in the news, you might not be paying attention to another brewing battle in the fast foood word: the war over macaroni and cheese. Starting August 26, KFC is launching Mac & Cheese bowls as part of the chain's $5 fill up menu.

The bowls are a twist on the Famous Bowls that are already on the menu, but rather than having a base of mashed potatoes, they have, natch, a base of mac & cheese. They're then topped with popcorn chicken and more cheese. They'll be available in both original and spicy—the spicy version comes with chicken coated in Nashville hot sauce. They'll be rolling out in participating restaurants around the country, and the company teamed up with YouTube personality Kalen Allen for a promotion around them.

It's a canny move as fast food restaurants increasingly move into the mac & cheese space. Earlier this month, Chick-fil-a announced that they're making mac & cheese into a permanent menu item. But more than that, the bowls signal the shift in the way that operations have been working at KFCs across the country, thanks to an innovation behind the scenes called "scoop to order."

Watch: KFC's New Cheetos-Filled Sandwich Is a Glorious Nightmare

Basically, for years, KFC operated by having restaurant workers pre-scoop the sides into separate containers and then put them in a warming station, ready to be picked up and packaged when a customer ordered their meal. This meant that an employee would have to put in hours scooping off the line. Since April, however, KFC now longer follows that system. The sides are in warming trays near the other items, allowing for employees to scoop them to order for a fresher, hotter side. Having the sides in one spot rather than preportioned also makes it easier to innovate with combining those sides, so things like the Mac & Cheese bowl are easier to construct.

KFC's Chief Operating Officer, Monica Rothgery, who helped shepherd the system through, explained that she hopes the system is better for customer experience as well as better for the employees inside the KFC. Rothgery, who began as a restaurant general manager at a Taco Bell in 1992. "My goal has always been to do what I can to make things better for people working in the back," she said. "I always ask how the system is going and if employees want to go back to the old way." In her experience, no one has.

That's good news for fans of KFC, and it's good news for the people who work there, too.