As ironic as it may be, there is something quintessentially timeless about limited-time offers. Yes, the specials come and go, but in terms of brand relevancy and menu innovation, the formula has a staying power that has endured through the decades.
Some LTOs are home runs right off the bat, while others never really win mass appeal but drum up a cult-like following (looking at you, McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce). As the name suggests, timing is key to a successful special. Brands must determine the best runtime to maximize sales and product salience—not everyone can pull a Starbucks with its days-only Frappuccino LTOs.
Even more important are the release dates. Certain products are more likely to resonate at a particular point in time, whether they’re capitalizing on existing trends or anticipating the next big wave.
Meredith Wenz / Marketing Director, Auntie Anne’s
We’ve had a lot of successful LTOs over the years, but if picking just one, I’d highlight our Pretzel Nuggets. Launched as an LTO in 2010, Pretzel Nuggets are the same pretzels our guests have always loved, just sliced into convenient and portable bite-sized pieces. We thought Pretzel Nuggets would be well-received, but their success certainly exceeded our expectations. Initially offered as a nationwide LTO in fall 2010, the product never left our menu and became a permanent item in 2011.
Today we actually sell more Pretzel Nuggets than pretzels. The convenience and portability of the product has really resonated with guests, as has its shareability. Our Pretzel Buckets, which contain five orders of Pretzel Nuggets, have exploded in popularity since being introduced in 2013 and are now the featured product in our burgeoning catering program.
Pretzel Nuggets provided a blueprint for the impact LTOs can make on our brand. An LTO is a great way to test a product’s long-term viability and can serve as a gateway to menu permanency.
Delivering a steady cadence of LTOs—both pretzels and beverages—has long been part of our marketing strategy. We know our guests crave new, innovative products, and we work hard to cater to their desires. While I can’t yet share specifics, we have some really fun LTOs coming out later this year.
Jenna Folk / Director of Brand Marketing, Hardee’s
We are always looking for ways to bring new, exciting offerings and regional flavors to our menu. Limited-time offers allow our culinary team to test new flavors, regional favorites, trending ingredients, and interesting menu items.
Last year, we partnered with Kellogg’s to reimagine breakfast with the launch of Froot Loops Mini Donuts, a fresh spin on the iconic breakfast favorite along with a pop of color and a hint of ’90s nostalgia. We know today’s consumers are craving current trends and that the ’90s was making a comeback in a major way, so a lot of the enthusiasm for Froot Loops Mini Donuts stemmed from that shared hunger to experience the things they enjoyed most in their childhood again.
We launched a digital #NotMilk campaign with an unexpected twist on the iconic dairy ads, showcasing that milk is not required for the Froot Loops Mini Donuts. From this, we saw a tremendous response from both our fans and the media. Product was flying off the shelves, and stores were selling out on day one of the launch. Froot Loops Mini Donuts sold out in a matter of weeks. As a result of this success and consumer excitement for the product, we added them to our menus this spring at restaurants nationwide.
Grant Morgan / Corporate Chef and Directory of Culinary, Velvet Taco
Doing a WTF [Weekly Taco Feature] is part of our DNA. It’s what sets us apart, and I can’t think of any other restaurant group that runs 52 LTOs a year.
Our most popular was the Chicken & Waffle Taco: crispy chicken tenders, peppercorn gravy, green apple slaw, maple syrup, peppered bacon, red chili aioli, and chives on a waffle tortilla. I thought it would do well, but I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible response. It works so well with all dayparts. The sweet, savory, and spicy combination works great together in each bite, and the comfort food influence really resonated with our guests. So we added it to the permanent menu. It is now the No. 18. Looking at the alternatives to the traditional tortilla, I created the waffle tortilla from scratch waffle batter that we cook in a waffle cone maker. This has really opened the door to a world of new options.