Web Exclusive | May 2012 | By Robert Lillegard

Summer LTOs Heat Up Menus

Chains return to the basics with their summer promotions.

Daphne's Chicken Strawberry Salad was a hit as an LTO last summer.
Daphne's Chicken Strawberry Salad was a hit as an LTO last summer.
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Summer is fast approaching, and with it comes this summer’s crop of seasonal limited-time offers from quick-serve and fast-casual chains. From retro ice cream flavors to salad-sandwich combinations, brands are looking to attract customers with innovation this summer while hearkening back to tried-and-true favorites.

Cold Stone Creamery pushed the innovation envelope with some of its seasonal flavors last summer, but senior Tastemaster Ray Karam says sales struggled in some smaller markets. Strawberry basil was a little outside many guests’ comfort zones, he says, and without any alcohol, the mojito sorbet was “a bit of a disappointment.”

So this year, Cold Stone is going back to the basics.

“We’re going back to retro-inspired ice cream flavors,” Karam says. “[It’s] kind of looking back at a period in ice cream history that really defined the era.”

From May 16 to August 31, the chain is offering Cherry Vanilla and Chocolate Malt flavors, along with related creations. The Cherry Vanilla Cherry Pie is a blend of cherry pie filling, graham crackers, caramel, and cherry vanilla ice cream, and the Malt My Heart With Chocolate features bananas, fudge, and whipped topping in addition to chocolate malt ice cream.

Cold Stone is also bringing back root beer floats, along with a vertical version of the banana split it’s calling the Banana Royale, which features a banana cut in quarters and stood up on each side of the glass with ice cream in the middle.

While these offerings aren’t groundbreaking, Karam says they should bring back fond memories for customers.

“You don’t even have to change the build of the ice cream, you change the way you eat it,” Karam says. “It’s kind of fun to go backward now and then.”

From May 9 to June 4, the 156-unit better-burger chain Smashburger is paying tribute to its popular Wedge Salad with the Wedge Club burger. Tom Ryan, founder and chief concept officer at Smashburger, says that similar to Cold Stone’s offerings, the sandwich was inspired by a classic combination.

“Most steakhouses have a wedge salad, and they’re very popular,” Ryan says. “Our burger stands up to a steakhouse quality.”

“Salads and summer are natural partners, so it just made perfect sense.”

The burger features applewood smoked bacon, blue cheese crumbles, an iceberg lettuce wedge, ripe tomatoes, red onions, and blue cheese dressing, and is served on a toasted egg bun. The same toppings are available on a chicken sandwich.

Smashburger is using the opportunity to create buzz with a social media campaign that offers customers a free entrée with purchase of the Wedge Club. Print ads will also accompany the launch.

While some stores will opt to keep the Wedge Club past the June 4 end date, the sandwich isn’t Smashburger’s only summer LTO. Ryan says the concept has several products ready to go on its promotional calendar, though he won’t name names.

“We’ve got a couple of great options that we’re planning for July,” Ryan says. “But we’re probably not going to release those for another month.”

When the 55-unit Daphne’s California Greek chain decided to launch a summer offering, it also returned to basics. Christy Geiling, senior director of marketing, says that while the chain has long been known for its Greek Salad, the big push this summer is on three more recent additions to the menu.

The Chicken Spinach Apple Salad and the Mango Shrimp Salad are offered year-round, but the chain is pushing them as summer promotions. The Chicken Strawberry Salad, which features marinated roasted chicken, and fresh-sliced strawberries along with walnuts, cranberries, and feta on mixed greens, is a summer-only LTO.

“Salads and summer are natural partners, so it just made perfect sense,” Geiling says. “All three of these salads really lend themselves to summer because of the fresh clean flavors, and lighter, better-for-you ingredients.”

The salads boast premium prices ranging from $8.29 to $9.29, and Geiling says customers shouldn’t expect discounts.

“We really play up the ingredients, quality, and taste and flavor of the ingredients,” Geiling says. “This isn’t a deal promotion.”

High price point or not, the Chicken Strawberry Salad was a popular option when it was an LTO during strawberry season last year. Daphne’s executives hope for the same success this summer.

“It’s one of those products that as soon as its gone everyone’s asking for it, [asking], ‘Where did it go? When is it coming back?’” Geiling says.