These Fast-Food Items Might Mean an Improving Economy

Fast-food restaurants may have pushed their value menus during the economic downturn, but now their new, outrageous, slightly costlier menu items might be a sign that better times are ahead.

April 2010: KFC's Double Down.

Is America's economy on the mend? Maybe you can measure it by fast-food menus: The chains that marketed value meals during the recession are now exploding with more novel, extravagant menu items, hoping to bringing in more mouths—and more money. Some argued that the post-recession, outrageous food trend started as early as April 2010 with KFC's Double Down. The infamous greasy bacon and cheese monster, sandwiched between two pieces of Original Recipe fried chicken, was a limited-time hit that got people talking about KFC as a sandwich destination.

April 2009: Domino's Pasta Bread Bowl.

Courtesy of Dominos

Another canary in the coal mine: Domino's debuted its over-the-top Pasta Bread Bowl in 2009, a year before the Double Down arrived on the market, to innovate beyond pizza and help its stock get out of its November 2008 slump. The company value went up soon after, but it may have been more a result of their "new and improved" pizza campaign. 

August 2010: Denny's Fried Cheese Melt.

Courtesy of Denny's

Melted cheese is always good for a little buzz, but mostly this item was received as "a little tame." Denny's offers this appetizer in a main course, with four fried mozzarella sticks buried deep into a grilled cheese sandwich. Considering you're getting two-fer, you might be more open to splitting it with friends as a first course while you wait for, say, your limited-time Macho Nacho Burger. 

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September 2010: IHOP's Cinn-A-Stack French Toast

Courtesy of International House of Pancakes

A popular limited-time item, at first IHOP's Cinn-A-Stack French Toast wasn't crazy enough to boost earnings when it launched, but ultimately it became a permanent menu addition in September 2010. Cinn-A-Stack is a cinnamon bun, deconstructed as a french toast: three slices of eggy bread stacked with cinnamon-roll filling, and topped with cream-cheese frosting and whipped cream. For those of us who would feel too guilty eating dessert for breakfast, IHOP cleverly marketed it as a legitimate meal.

January 2012: Dunkin Donuts' Sausage & Pancake Bites.

Courtesy Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin Donuts first munchkin-ized two of America's favorite breakfast foods in November 2010, coating miniature sausage links with a sweet pancake crusts. Though not currently available, these "innovative, portable" bites return yearly and add a pop of variety and anticipation for returning customers, and possibly lure in new ones as well.

Summer 2012: Burger King's Bacon Sundae.

Courtesy of Burger King

Burger King capitalized on the nation's ongoing bacon obsession with a limited time offering last summer: the Bacon Sundae. Although it was similar to the caramel and chocolate sundaes (both Value Menu items) with its blend of syrups over vanilla soft-serve, BK didn't skimp on the bacon—and consumers didn't skimp on the buzz. However, the biggest baconator here might be the pork council, who spent more than 1.3 million dollars lobbying in 2011, up from 1.1 million in 2010.

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Spring 2013: Carl's Jr.'s Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich.

Like Taco Bell before them, which brought a well-known and beloved snack (Doritos) to its tacos, Carl's Jr. is playing on consumer nostalgia with these novelty ice-cream sandwiches. They're also conveniently priced at $1.29, which is attractive for the younger (read: broke) Pop-Tart generation. "Snack" items like this are also able to get customers in during dead spots between meals.

Spring 2013: Pizza Hut's Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza

Courtesy of Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut's latest stuffed crust creation features 16 semi-circles of cheese that can be pulled off and eaten separately. Why? "The main thing our customers tell us is they want more cheese," according to a brand manager for the chain. And Americans seem to be wild for "crazy" as a buzzword. This novelty pie will set you back a few extra bucks; starting at $12.99, it's priced 38% higher than a regular large pizza ($8). Pizza Hut has tested other wacky creations in international markets, including pizzas with mini cheeseburgers and chicken strips or stuffed with a hot dog.

Spring 2013: Burger King's Stuffed Steakhouse Burger

Courtesy of Burger King

In 2011, Burger King spiced up its menu with the novelty Stuffed Steakhouse Burger, a beef patty loaded with jalapeño bits and chunks of cheddar cheese. Although it was a pricier offering for the time at $4, a variation of the burger stuffed with bacon and cheddar cheese is now available for $5.89. Premium products such as this might be a way for customers to get familiar with seeing higher prices; even the word "premium" 

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