New Fast Food Item Ideas Are Born In Test Kitchens, In Franchises, And Everywhere Else

Back in 1972, McDonald’s only served two meals each day: lunch and dinner. It took one enterprising franchisee to invent the Egg McMuffin, and with it, the entire fast food breakfast sandwich industry. Yet there aren’t many new menu items that survive the testing phase in the fast food industry, and a variety of factors could stop a new item on its way to international greatness.

The Wall Street Journal examined how food items succeed or fail in the marketplace, and the importance of staying competitive for massive chains that now have to compete with each other and with newer fast-casual restaurants. Yet even their system of testing items in certain markets before taking them regional or national doesn’t always work: we followed McDonald’s Mighty Wings with some fascination from their early tests in Australia to a nationwide menu item in the United States, and the wings… failed to catch on, even when discounted.

That’s one pathway for new food items to be developed that the Journal didn’t discuss: sometimes new products can be imported. We exported Pizza Hut to the rest of the world, and the chain’s international cousins returned the favor (maybe) by developing concepts like crusts stuffed with hot dogs over a period of years.

Other new menu items come from trends outside of the fast food world, like the popular pretzel buns of a few years ago, or Subway’s now-popular creamy sriracha sauce. The chain knew that sriracha was popular, but also that dousing sandwiches with the stuff would terrify much of their customer base, so they came up with their own version.

How Fast-Food Chains Cook Up New Menu Items [Wall Street Journal]

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