'Outrageous Food' Trend Ramps Up Competition

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 7/2/2018

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Perhaps you’re familiar with the term “unicorn food.” A New York Times article from April 19, 2017 was headlined: Unicorn Food’ Is Colorful, Sparkly and Everywhere. About that time Starbucks was introducing their “unicorn Frappuccinos” described as “a colorful kaleidoscope of a drink.” Other examples were cited in the article, including “…rainbow bagels, unicorn lattes and the classic sprinkle.”

The Yard Milkshake Bar serves milkshakes from my dreams. Ice cream and shakes are major road hazards for my dietary plans. We were in Gulf Shores, AL, last summer and somehow missed it. Fortunately family members returned there a few weeks ago. Their photos show you a few of their outrageous milkshakes.


These days there is much for us to consider beyond “Unicorn food.” Another New York Times article, examined some past and some new menu developments at fast food restaurant chains. The headline will give you an idea of how menu trends are evolving:  Meat Wrapped in Meat. Doughnut Sandwiches. Want Some of Fast Food’s Big Ideas?

This article named names and shared photographs of some winning and losing menu items from fast food chains. Do you recall?
● KFC: Double Down Sandwich – a meat-on-meat-on-meat sandwich for the really hearty eater.
● McDonald’s: McRib – first introduced in 1981. It has an incredibly loyal following and reappears on the menu as a limited time offering.
● McDonald’s: Shamrock Shake – obviously a seasonal menu feature.
● McDonald’s: McDLT – a short-lived menu item, “…a burger split into two Styrofoam compartments to separate the lettuce and tomato from the beef…”
● Taco Bell: Doritos Locos Taco – rolled out as a raging success selling “…100 million (tacos) within 10 weeks…in 2012.”
● Dunkin’ Donuts: Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich – did not turn out to be a menu winner.
● Starbucks: Pumpkin Spice Latte – a wildly popular seasonal menu addition. It was one of the leading edge products setting off the pumpkin craze – as an ingredient, flavoring or aroma in almost anything you could think of.

Are these outrageous foods? How many of the menu items mentioned in the article have you purchased? How would you describe the taste, texture, eye appeal and price/value relationship?

What does this have to do with our business? New products from fast food chains tend to get lots of advertising and promotional support. All that marketing activity might just cause some of your shoppers to go out for lunch. That means you lose the meal – sandwich, snack and beverage. Maybe you’ll lose some stand-alone snack or beverage transactions, too – think Pumpkin Spice Latte and all of its loyal fans.

What can we do? My recent blog posting, Keep Your Eye On The Prize, told you “Expect to see more new products and more promotions from fast-food restaurants in the next few months. They will need to react to the traffic downtrends.”  

It’s not easy for us to serve customized outrageous foods and beverages. We, as an industry, cannot match the fast food restaurant chains when it comes to new products, marketing, advertising and promotion. They have deep pockets and lots of skilled resources.  

What should you do? You’ve got to stay focused on the basics. Clean, filled and working does matter. Providing cashless payment alternatives matters.  Clean breakrooms matter. Eye-appealing merchandising matters. Value-driven promotions matter. A loyalty program for your shoppers matters. Being an employer of choice is good for your business and your team; it matters. Eliminating out-of-stocks matters too.

Get better and better at all of the things that matter. Do that, and do it well, and you’ll be making good progress on the path to selling more stuff.

» Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached at Paul@DFWConsulting.net or (972) 877-2972 or www.DFWConsulting.net.