Web Exclusive | February 2011 | By Sam Oches

Fast Food By Candlelight

Brands aim for a Valentine’s Day she’ll never forget.

With Super Bowl XLV in the books and the Packers heading back to Green Bay victorious, marketing directors everywhere are turning their attention to another winter milestone: Valentine’s Day.

From special products to ridiculous deliveries, a number of quick serves are rolling out promotional campaigns to drum up business for the Day of Love.

Pinkberry, the Los Angeles–based frozen yogurt concept, launched a promotion last week that offers to send a gift on behalf of one Pinkberry customer to another in the form of a “Swirly Gram.”

Swirly Grams can be ordered online and sent as a gift card to anybody in the country, or they can be ordered at a Pinkberry store, then hand-delivered by a crew member to an unsuspecting person complete with balloons, Pinkberry frozen yogurt, and a personal message.

Suzanne Ginestro, vice president of brand management at Pinkberry, says the company’s Swirly Gram promotion is a way for the brand to highlight the connection customers make over Pinkberry’s frozen yogurt.

“What we have found is that a lot of our core customers love to come to Pinkberry on dates, and there’s a romance thing that goes on with the brand where women are really in love with it and therefore the men in their lives become in love with it, too,” Ginestro says. “It’s really a natural fit for us to offer something for Valentine’s Day that helps connect loved ones.”

Ginestro says Swirly Grams, which can be ordered through noon PST on February 11, offer customers a gift that’s different from the Valentine’s norm.

“People love to get flowers and chocolate, but to have something that’s a little bit more interesting and unexpected is a real treat,” she says.

For the quick-serve connoisseurs who aren’t interested in playing it safe with a female favorite like fro yo, there are more adventurous options as well. KFC Hawaii held a contest last year that rewarded a dozen couples with KFC candlelight dinners.

In lieu of creating a Valentine's Day occasion for customers, some brands are sticking with the tried-and-true heart-shaped-food strategy.

Similarly, a Chick-fil-A in North Carolina is offering families a table-service, candlelight dinner, complete with music and a take-home gift.

“We feel like the world puts so much emphasis on Valentine’s Day, and we wanted to make it an emphasis for families to come to our store and engage with each other, as opposed to leaving the kids out for Valentine’s,” says Ginny Hargette, marketing director of the Chick-fil-A at Afton Ridge and Concord Mills near Charlotte.

“With the economy being what it is as well, a lot of families are really excited about the opportunity to come to Chick-fil-A, as opposed to feeling like they need to … purchase cards or gifts.”

Hargette says the store has been doing holiday-themed events like this for years, with great success. Of the 60 tables available for reservation for the February 11 event, only 10 are still free, she says.

In lieu of creating a Valentine’s Day occasion for customers, some brands are sticking with the tried-and-true heart-shaped-food strategy. Papa Murphy’s, for instance, rolled out a heart-shaped pizza for the season.

Similarly, Dunkin’ Donuts launched a heart-shaped donut to commemorate the holiday. The Cupid’s Choice Donut, which is filled with Bavarian Kreme and topped with strawberry icing and pink, white, and red heart-shaped sprinkles, is the company’s first shaped donut.

“Dunkin' Donuts has a history of celebrating seasonal flavors with limited-time offers, like pumpkin-flavored coffees and baked goods in the fall and gingerbread-flavored coffees and baked goods during the holidays,” said Michelle King, director of global public relations for Dunkin' Brands Inc., in an e-mail to QSR.

King said holidays like Valentine’s Day provide the company with “endless opportunities to create innovative new menu items that evoke a strong emotional connection with the flavors of the season.”

“Our guests traditionally respond positively to our limited-time seasonal and holiday-themed food and beverages,” she said, explaining that demand for the brand’s fall-flavored LTOs begins earlier each year.”