From Crispy Chicken Sandwich tacos at Taco Bell to “new” fries at Wendy’s, there’s no shortage of shiny new items to draw the attention of the fast food connoisseur. The chicken sandwich wars also continue, two years after Popeyes kicked off the craze. And with many restaurant chains raising their prices, the business of keeping fast food fresh and interesting is more important than ever.
But these enticing eats are created for more reasons than just driving up a company’s bottom line. In fact, many of the most famous fast food items of all time did not rack up a considerable profit. But they did do something potentially more valuable.
“These novelty items are about the social play, getting people talking about the brand,” Danny Klein, Editorial Director at Food News Media, told Yahoo. “Inspiring visits, creating a new news cycle to market something else that’s happening. (They) need to come to market with something unique to put on social media and draw in customers. Yum Brands (owners of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC) are all about the cultural relevance play in their marketing, to get people talking.”
Several of these fast food innovations have made such an impact that people still reminisce about them today. Here are a few of the foods still filed away in our brains as tasty memories.
The McRib has inspired cultish devotion since its release in 1981, and those who have not followed it since then may wonder why. Invented by McDonald’s executive chef René Arend, the sandwich was a flop at first and was pulled from the menu in 1985. It reappeared periodically in the ‘90s before going on a “farewell tour” in 2005. Now it appears once a year, and like clockwork, people show up in droves to pack it into their faces.
Double Down (KFC)
Making its debut in 2010 as a limited edition item, KFC’s Double Down was not for the health-conscious. Packing bacon and cheese between two slices of fried chicken in lieu of bread, the Double Down contains nearly a day’s worth of sodium content and 32 grams of fat. But that didn’t stop 10 million people from ordering it in its first few months on the menu, according to KFC Spokesman Rick Maynard in an interview with CNN. However, Buckingham Research analyst Mitchell Speiser told CNN that the sandwich only accounted for 5% of sales that year, and that a new product has to be “north of 10%” to be considered a blockbuster. Much like the McRib, the Double Down has returned for limited engagements since, the most recent being in the Philippines this month.
BK Chicken Fries (Burger King)
Burger King also saw the potential to repackage the way chicken was served when it launched its BK Chicken Fries in 2005. They hung around until 2012 and were discontinued, which drummed up a huge reaction on social media begging for the fries’ return. Some even made dedicated Twitter accounts to broadcast their stance loud and clear. Burger King responded by bringing back the fries for good in 2014, telling Business Insider in an interview that the experience taught them to always put what the guest wants first. Since then, Chicken Fries have come in Buffalo, Jalapeno, and even Cheetos-flavored varieties.
Mexican Pizza (Taco Bell)
After 32 years on the menu, Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza was discontinued in 2020, causing an uproar on social media. More than 166,000 people signed a petition pleading with the company to bring it back. One fan even went as far as to create a fake Halloween ad advertising its return. The hashtag #mexicanpizza remains active on Twitter, with some going as far as to beg newly-appointed Chief Impact Officer Lil Nas X to bring it back. Fan devotion is no joke, y’all.
The Big New Yorker (Pizza Hut)
This 16-inch pizza didn’t sport any special features (unless you count its foldability), but fans went nuts over it. Introduced in 1999, Pizza Hut announced 70,000,000 pies sold in the first year it was available. It’s since fallen off the menu, but there is a current Change.org petition collecting signatures and hoping to resurrect its cheesy glory. The Hut currently offers a Detroit-style pizza, but it just isn’t the same.
What discontinued fast foods do you most wish would make their glorious comeback? Let us know in the comments.