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Value and comfort trump innovation in recent LTO launches

The pandemic has slowed R&D, but chains are luring consumers with meal deals.
Photo courtesy of Wendy's

Limited-time offers continued to launch at a good clip in April, according to Technomic’s menu concept development survey, as chains work six months to a year ahead on R&D and already had items in the pipeline before the coronavirus struck. But with widespread stay-at-home orders in effect throughout the month, operators began to shift their LTO strategy to focus on value. Restaurants dependent on takeout and delivery are trying to lure customers with discounts, family meal deals and even freebies.

“Operators have had to pause product innovation for a number of reasons,” says Lauren Hallow, senior manager, consumer insights for Technomic. She cites the fact that some R&D folks have been furloughed, and restaurant shutdowns prevent chains from conducting product testing and focus groups with consumers. The prediction is that May will see fewer new item launches.

Of the limited-time offers that have launched, consumers are prioritizing comfort foods and bundled deals at a value price, finds Technomic. They are especially in favor of large portions and family meals that provide leftovers to reheat for multiple meals. Only 35% are craving foods that are more healthful.

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Potential purchasers in Technomic’s Ignite Menu Concept Development survey ranked these five LTOs the highest among those offered by chains through April.*

1. New York-Style Cheesecake scored high in purchase intent with 65% of consumers surveyed, based on its menu description. This indulgent dessert, on the menu at Quaker Steak & Lube, is topped with a choice of fresh strawberries and whipped cream or Oreo cookie pieces and fudge.

2. Garlic Mashed Potatoes appealed to 61% of potential purchasers. The description included the words “with a hint of roasted garlic”—pretty straightforward and simple, but offering a slight twist on this comfort food favorite featured at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

3. Classic Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich, another simple but comforting item, ranked high with 59% of those surveyed. Wendy’s debuted its new breakfast menu in March, and although shelter-in-place consumers are mostly eating breakfast at home these days, this seems to be an item they intend to purchase in the future. The sandwich features a fresh-cracked grade A egg, Applewood-smoked bacon and melted American cheese on a warm breakfast roll.


4. Grilled Asparagus is geared to that 35% of consumers seeking more healthful options. Fifty-six percent of potential purchasers found this side dish appealing. The description on the Logan’s Roadhouse menu reads “fresh asparagus basted with Italian dressing and grilled over a mesquite-wood fire.”

5. Redrock Grilled Shrimp tempted 56% of potential purchasers. Although this may sound like a healthier entree, the description from LongHorn Steakhouse is all about indulgence: “Grilled jumbo shrimp glazed with smoky tomato butter and served over rice with melted garlic butter.” Two types of butter enhance the flavor profile and decadence of the dish.


*The canvass of 500 consumers for 100 or more LTOs shows which are most likely to be purchased based on the item’s name and description. Results are rounded to the nearest whole number.

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