Are Bizarro Novelty Items the Future of the Fast Food Industry?

A blog about business and economics.
May 15 2014 2:12 PM

Yum! Brands Has Staked Its Future on Bizarre Fast-Food Novelties

4558729771_9857e9e157_b
Could this cheesy chicken patty sandwich be the future of KFC?

Photo by kslee via Flickr.

Why settle for bread when you can have chicken? That was KFC's thinking when it brought back its notorious Double Down “sandwich”—bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, and secret sauce wedged between two fried chicken patties—for a limited time. Inspired? Disgusting? You can be the judge until May 25, but the novelty of it certainly has people talking.

In an effort to drive traffic to its stores, Yum! Brands, the parent corporation behind KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, appears to have lighted on a new strategy for 2014: the bizarro fast-food novelty item. KFC has the Double Down. Taco Bell rolled out the waffle taco, a syrup-drenched fold of meat and eggs. And Pizza Hut, in select locations, is promoting the beef-stuffed, 2,880-calorie, heart-attack-in-a-slice monstrosity known as the cheeseburger pizza. Congratulations, Michael Phelps, you can finally hit those 10,000 calories in three meals or less.

While menu items like the Double Down might generate some purchases from adventurous consumers, odds are they’ve been created mainly to drum up interest in the chains. “There may be one person who wants to go there and try it, and other people who are interested in seeing it, but order normal food,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food and restaurant consulting firm Technomic. “These are items which are designed to create buzz through both social media and customers.”

Advertisement

The waffle taco has quickly become Taco Bell’s most talked-about menu item, and interest in the chain as tracked by Google Trends hit an all-time high when the breakfast menu debuted in March. One customer’s Instagram photo of the waffle taco went viral with more than 4 million views, said Ashley Sioson, a spokeswoman for Taco Bell. The company had no comment on its specific strategy regarding novelty foods, stating simply that “innovation is at the core of everything we do.”

If Yum! Brands is the leading purveyor of novelty foods, other companies have at least dabbled in them. Triple O’s, a Canada-based burger chain, has featured a peanut butter, bacon, and jalapeño burger, and Denny’s played around with a greasy mozzarella-stick stuffed sandwich. McDonald’s has the McRib and a top-secret item called the Mc1035 that’s only available around—you guessed it—10:35 a.m.

With the waffle taco, Double Down, and cheeseburger-stuffed crust pizza already in play, what move can Yum make next? Expanding off-menu is always an option, as it did in 2012 with the Eau de Pizza Hut perfume. But to get some true innovation at the core of everything it does, we suggest that Yum turn to Slate’s bizarro fast-fast generator. Honey-glazed mac and cheese pizza, anyone?

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The NFL Has No Business Punishing Players for Off-Field Conduct. Leave That to the Teams.

Meet the Allies the U.S. Won’t Admit It Needs in Its Fight Against ISIS

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Medical Examiner

How to Stop Ebola

Survivors might be immune. Let’s recruit them to care for the infected.

History

America in Africa

The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.

New GOP Claim: Hillary Clinton’s Wealth and Celebrity Are Tricks to Disguise Her Socialism

Why the Byzantine Hiring Process at Universities Drives Academics Batty

Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 3:29 PM The Fascinating Origins of Savannah, Georgia’s Distinctive Typeface
  News & Politics
History
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM America in Africa The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Education
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM Why Your Cousin With a Ph.D. Is a Basket Case  Understanding the Byzantine hiring process that drives academics up the wall.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 23 2014 11:37 PM How to Stop Ebola Could survivors safely care for the infected?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?