Do Wacky Foods Like Burger King’s Whopperrito Help The Bottom Line—Or Is It A Cry For Help?
Stop me if you’ve heard this: from Monday, Burger King will be selling, for a limited time, its Whopperrito, a burrito that features a Whopper burger, seasoned with Tex-Mex, as its main filling.
I’m betting most people, if not everyone reading this, has already heard about the Whopperrito. How could you not notice? After all, in the last week or so, USA Today and The Chicago Tribune and The Miami Herald, to pick a few papers at random, have written about it. A lot of local TV news stations have done stories on it as well, and it’s captured a lot of buzz on social media.
And you’re likely well aware that the Whopperrito is hardly the first novelty menu item to come along at a fast food restaurant. Earlier this summer, Burger King debut its limited novelty item, Mac n’ Cheetos, and within days Taco Bell will begin experimenting in Cincinnati with a Cheetos Burrito with the idea of eventually unleashing it nationwide. We’re aware of these food items because, well, they’re wacky and different.
So are these fast food novelty items appearing on menus because they really do help the restaurant’s bottom line, or is to get attention? Or is it more of a cry for help? As in, a desperate bid to get customers to notice them among the competition.
All of the above, but this is definitely more of a gambit to get everyone talking, versus truly being a revenue maker. Alex Macedo, president of Burger King North America, even confirmed it, in an interview with USA Today, saying of these wacky food menu items: “It’s just to get people’s attention to come into the restaurants.”
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other reasons to offer novelty food items. There are a number of reasons why we have entered a Golden Age of Wacky Fast Foods.
They do help with the bottom-line. Even if novelty food isn’t a huge money maker, they don’t hurt. Jo Allison, a consumer behavioral analyst at Canvas8, a market research firm in London, says that Burger King achieved great success with their last novelty item, Mac n’ Cheetos.
“It was only meant to stay on the menu for eight weeks but was an instant hit, selling out in restaurants across the US and earning the brand over 3.2 billion online impressions, making it one of the most covered product launches in the company’s history,” Allison says.
That said, Burger King didn’t really make money off the Mac ‘n Cheetos, says Nick Mazing, a New York City-based consumer long/short portfolio manager with extensive investment experience in restaurants.
Instead of boasting about the money the novelty items are earning, Mazing says, “more often than not, companies brag about impressions which tells you that they are predominantly a marketing tool. For example, BK said the Mac n’ Cheetos had 3.2 billion impressions, yet same store sales declined in the quarter.”
Still, if a novelty item doesn’t help revenue, they don’t hurt. It seems illogical that people would stay away from a restaurant because of some wacky food item on the menu, and Allison says that there’s always the hope that a food item has the same success that Taco Bell did in 2011 with its Doritos Locos Taco, which replaced the taco shells with a special Doritos casing.
“In 2013, the brand hired 15,000 extra staff to cope with the demand, and it was selling an average of a million modified tacos each day in 2014,” she says.
Besides, there’s good reason to do whatever restaurants can to bring in the customers. Linda Duke, CEO of Duke Marketing in San Rafael, California, points out that the restaurant industry is experiencing something of a recession.
“Same store sales are down year-over-year at nearly every restaurant chain in the U.S. New gimmicky menu items, and break-through promotions are the name of the game right now, along with meal deals, to entice consumers to open their wallets,” she says. “The combination of unusual or unique menu items and price, such as Burger King’s launch of hot dogs, offer consumers a reason to choose the brand even if they are cutting back and gets media attention to create a buzz as well.”
They keep the restaurant in the national conversation. Whether you’re the owner of a small diner or part of a national franchise, you want people to be talking about your food, and hopefully in a positive way. But why should people talk if you aren’t doing anything worth talking about?
“These new foods will certainly generate buzz,” says Peggy Liu, an assistant business professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration. “Will everyone find these novelty items appealing? Certainly not. However, we do know from research that there are some consumers who really value trying new experiences.”
Liu adds: “There’s also a social, conversational element of trying these novelty items, which in a sense resemble fatty food creations you might find at state fairs. So to the extent that these novelty items appeal to such consumers, they may drive new traffic – at least short-term – to these stores.”
The novelty menu items keeps the menu fresh. Restaurants like McDonald’s became big because a large portion of the public loves iconic favorites like the Big Mac, but if you offer the same items over and over, people get bored. That’s likely why Arby’s has made it something of an art form, constantly bringing out limited-time menu items, like their latest meatball sandwich, and why McDonald’s trots out the fan favorite, the McRib, ever so often and is always coming out with something new, like its current testing of a chicken-and-waffles breakfast sandwich, among other things.
As Macedo said in his USA Today interview, these limited-time menu options are “also important for keeping the brand relevant.”
So don’t expect these novelty items to disappear from the fast food menus anytime soon. Whether or not they actually improve the bottom line, the media and the public eats them up, and next year we’ll all be talking about Taco Bell again. They’ve been busy testing a taco with a shell made out of fried chicken. You can expect it on sale nationwide sometime next year.
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This article was written by Geoff Williams from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.