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Fast-casual and quick-serve restaurants are not just banking on the same old flavors for this year’s Thanksgiving-focused limited-time offers (LTO). Many are featuring unique takes on turkey via salads, sandwiches, soups, and other dishes. Thanksgiving and holiday LTO desserts have gotten a new spin, too, from turkey-shaped frozen treats to gingerbread bars.
Instead of the standard turkey and cranberry sandwich pairing, Quiznos rolled out a Pesto Turkey Ciabatta Toastie sandwich with Mozzarella, basil pesto, tomatoes, lettuce, and red wine vinaigrette in early September.
“The Pesto Turkey is doing really well and we will run it into January,” says Susan Lintonsmith, CMO for Quiznos. In addition to the sandwich’s flavor profile, she says, its competitive price—$3.99—is attractive to customers. “People are always looking for value around the holidays,” Lintonsmith says.
Other chains with outside-the-box turkey offerings include Arby’s and its Turkey Gyro; Au Bon Pain with a Turkey, Kale & Wild Rice Soup; Wayback Burgers, which is offering a Turkey Dinner Burger that features stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mayonnaise; Cousins Subs and its Turkey Bacon Guacamole sandwich with turkey breast, bacon, guacamole, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes on Italian bread; and Potbelly Sandwich Shop, which is menuing a Turkey, Bacon & Cheddar Flat with sliced turkey, Cheddar cheese, and Applewood-smoked bacon on a multigrain flatbread. Meanwhile, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen brought back its Cajun-style turkeys for catering. The turkeys are slow-roasted and then flash-fried.
Saladworks debuted a Farm Fresh salad that is topped with turkey tenderloins, house-roasted butternut squash, red grapes, Feta, and candied walnuts.
“This is the first time with our Farm Fresh salad. Our most popular seasonal salad was Autumn Harvest, and, four years ago, we made it a standard menu item,” says Jenna Henderson, vice president of brand services for Saladworks. Executives developed the Farm Fresh salad so the company could continue to have a fall seasonal salad, and because “we like the difference between tangy and sweet and soft and crunchy with the ingredients,” she says.
The Farm Fresh salad has been popular among customers thanks to a multi-pronged campaign that includes digital billboards, bus advertising, and online marketing. As part of a Saladworks Facebook contest, consumers can upload a photo of their favorite salad from the brand for the opportunity to win free salad for a year.
With another unique take on Thanksgiving flavors, ’wichcraft is launching its Chef’s Daily Roasted Turkey sandwich, which includes Sweet Potato Hash and Cranberry Apple Preserve on Ciabatta and comes with a side of gravy, the week of Thanksgiving. The brand also plans to menu a Five Spice Pork Loin sandwich with Glazed Apples and Braised Cabbage on Ciabatta.
“Normally, our Chef’s Daily Sandwiches specials run for a long time, but the turkey sandwich will run for a very short time,” says Jeffrey Zurofsky, CEO of ’wichcraft. “Our customers come to our restaurant very regularly—some twice a day—and when they see signage for something new, they get it very quickly.”
’wichcraft will promote the LTO sandwiches via in-store signage, press outreach, and social media. Other Thanksgiving-themed items recently added to ’wichcraft’s menu include a side salad with quinoa, roasted butternut squash, pecans, and sherry vinaigrette.
Limited-service restaurants are smartly featuring turkey in a different way this season, says Lizzy Freier, an editor with foodservice consulting firm Technomic.
“Turkey is a popular and well-loved protein, especially over the holidays, so operators should use the season to get creative with their turkey products,” she says. “As the demand increases for healthier options on menus, especially at quick serves and fast casuals, operators need to respond by offering healthy yet enticing menu offerings.”
Other innovative ways to feature turkey, aside from including in a sandwich, are adding turkey tenders to the kids’ menu and adding turkey to salads and soups, Freier says. In addition, adding spices and ethnic ingredients takes “the relatively simple protein up a notch with enhanced flavors,” she says.
Operators have also launched new desserts this year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the first time, Quiznos is featuring a Gingerbread Bar, which runs from November 10 through the end of December.
“People naturally think about gingerbread when they think about the holidays and sweets,” Quiznos’ Lintonsmith says. “We decided to have some fun with the dessert line this year, as it’s a good place to bring in variety for different seasons. We highlighted the essence of fall with our limited-time pumpkin bar, and are now launching gingerbread to bring in those key flavors of the holiday season.”
Quiznos is promoting the new bars via suggestive selling in-store, through its Q Club email list, and through social media.
Meanwhile, Carvel Ice Cream is featuring a Tom the Turkey Cake, a Thanksgiving Sheet Cake, and Lil’ Gobblers Novelty Treats that look like miniature turkeys. And Gigi’s Cupcakes is selling pies for the first time. From November 5 through Thanksgiving, the cupcake shop is featuring a Ginger Snap Pumpkin Pie topped with maple leaf cookies and a dollop of buttercream frosting. Through Christmas, Gigi’s is also featuring a Southern Comfort Pecan Pie with whiskey-flavored filling and a thick layer of Georgia pecans. The pies are sold in two sizes: the traditional 9-inch pie and individual 3-inch Mini Pies.