Chicken sandwiches, quesadillas and mac ‘n’ cheese remain popular restaurant purchases, but consumers don’t view these as unique. These same items appear on many chain menus, so they don’t offer a point of differentiation. The limited-time offers that consumers say are unique often feature an unusual but appealing combination of ingredients, cutting edge flavors or an outside-the-box presentation.
Click ahead to see the 10 most unique LTOs at chains from August through September, as ranked by potential purchasers in Technomic’s Ignite menu concept development survey. (The canvass of 500 consumers for 100 or more LTOs shows which are most unique based on the item’s name and description. Results are rounded to the nearest whole number.) Items with high uniqueness scores indicate an ability to differentiate the menu, says Lauren Hallow, consumer insights manager for Technomic.
10. Fruity Pebbles Cereal Pizookie
Using a brand name in a menu item can catch consumers’ attention, and that’s what happened with the Fruity Pebbles Cereal Pizookie at BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse. Seventy-six percent of potential purchasers found this sweet treat to be unique. Brand names in desserts are especially effective in boosting purchase intent—62% of consumers say they like to order desserts with brand-name ingredients, according to Technomic’s Dessert Consumer Trend Report.
9. Jackfruit Falafel Tacos
Casual-dining chain Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar launched these shareable, plant-forward tacos as an LTO on its happy hour/late-night menu. The taco is described as a crispy jackfruit patty seasoned with Baharat spices combined with housemade hummus, feta, cucumber-tomato-caper relish and green goddess dressing, served in lettuce wraps. That description convinced 77% of potential purchasers to rate this item as unique. Restaurants are subbing jackfruit for pulled pork, shredded chicken and other animal proteins to create unique veggie-centric options. Plus, the ingredients are wrapped in lettuce leaves instead of the traditional tortilla.
8. Scalding Pig
Perhaps it’s the quirky name of this menu item that spurred 77% potential purchasers to call it out as unique. Or maybe it’s the promise of heat. Torchy’s Tacos’ menu description gives more insight into what this spicy LTO is about: pasilla and ghost pepper stewed pork, Jack cheese, escabeche carrots, chicharron, sour cream, cilantro and Torchy’s own XXX hot sauce on a flour tortilla. Along with the heat, some of the ingredients and preparation techniques are pretty unique as well.
7. Keto Champ Coffee
With the popularity of the high-protein keto diet, a number of chains are developing dishes and drinks that fit the guidelines of this eating plan. Smoothie King debuted Keto Champ Coffee, a combo of cold-brew coffee, keto protein blend, almond butter, almond milk and cocoa. The indulgent-sounding beverage got high points for uniqueness from 77% of potential purchasers.
6. Non-Dairy and Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frozen Dessert
Chains seem to be jumping on the plant-based trend this month, and consumers are on board. Baskin-Robbins introduced its first vegan ice cream as an LTO, available in two flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Chocolate Extreme. Of potential purchasers in the survey, 78% found the former to be a unique flavor. The menu encourages buy-in from customers with this description: “Try this rich, indulgent cookie dough flavor with cookie dough pieces, chocolate chips and a chocolate fudge swirl. By the way, it’s all non-dairy and vegan.”
5. Strawberry-Glazed Olive Oil Bread
Peet’s Coffee expanded its food offerings with a sweet-savory item that covers both breakfast and snacking occasions. The Strawberry-Glazed Olive Oil Bread is described as “mildly sweet with nutty notes of semolina, topped with a strawberry fondant glaze and a fine pistachio crumble.” That description inspired 80% of potential purchasers to consider this item to be unique.
4. Peanut Butter Mocha Caramelicious
Indulgence won over potential purchasers to the Peanut Butter Mocha Carameliciouslaunched at Scooter's Coffee. The dessert-drink “fuses together world-class espresso, velvety caramel sauce, creamy peanut butter and an ice cream base, topped with rich chocolate and caramel drizzle.” Eighty percent of potential purchasers gave this LTO high marks for uniqueness.
3. Honey Cornbread Berry Pie
Cold Stone Creamery’s seasonal limited-time ice cream captures the flavor of summer transitioning to fall. It features honey cornbread and blackberry jam ice cream in a graham cracker pie crust topped with a layer of moist cornbread and fluffy blackberry jam frosting. That combination was found to be unique by 81% of potential purchasers.
2. Guacamole Sundae
Incorporating avocados into ice cream is a unique twist, and 85% of potential purchasers agree. Rosa Mexicano, known for its tableside guacamole, sweetened up that popular starter by creating a Guacamole Sundae. It features avocado ice cream topped with white chocolate shavings, mint and strawberries, served with warm, housemade bunuelos.
1. Steak & Bourbon Ice Cream
LongHorn Steakhouse also debuted a dessert with a savory component, and 86% of potential purchasers deemed it unique, earning Steak & Bourbon Ice Cream the No. 1 spot. The item boasts an unusual blend of ingredients and techniques. Here’s how the ice cream is described on the menu: “With our exclusive signature char seasoning, Jim Beam bourbon caramel sauce and bits of steak, topped with bourbon caramel sauce, whipped cream and steak sprinkles.”