At this point it feels like if consumers annoy a major food brand enough, the company will eventually succumb to the demands of the vocal minority and bring back just about any item it has ever discontinued. Judging by recent product launches and menu updates, it looks like fast food chains have decided it’s downright lucrative to listen to their most aggrieved customers.
Foods brought back by popular demand
As a chain that’s been going through a lot of transformations lately, one of the best moves Burger King made in recent years was to bring back its Chicken Fries. Burger King originally launched the popular menu item in 2005, but chose to discontinue the Chicken Fries in 2012, reports TIME. Following that decision, social media users mourning the loss of their favorite dish did what they do best: they got people’s attention.
Petitions were created to bring back the Chicken Fries, and proponents of their return even went so far as to plead that then president Barack Obama make it a national priority. Unable to quell the voices of the internet, the King brought back the Chicken Fries and the offering was restored as a permanent menu item in 2015.
McDonald’s is one brand that is extremely picky about its reruns. However, when it does choose to bring back a menu item, it chooses its openings wisely. Take, for example, the recent news that McDonald’s is bringing back its McDonaldland characters as Happy Meal toys for adults. Grimace, the Hamburglar, and Birdie are all making an appearance as figurines targeted toward the adults most likely to remember their heyday.
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In fact, McDonald’s is hardly subtle about this marketing strategy. Back in April, the brand tweeted the prompt, “Bring back ___.” This received an array of responses, and though many did include calls for the snack wrap (we’ll talk about that later), quite a few asked not for a menu item but for the return of Grimace and the Hamburglar. And a cottage industry of unofficial merch featuring the characters indicates a surge in interest, all of which translates to money being left on the table. McDonald’s would be foolish not to monetize that.
Another victory for McDonald’s fans was the return of its Hi-C drink to the beverage lineup. The beverage was nowhere to be found from 2017 to 2021, reported Business Insider. Once again, internet petitions and social media are to thank for the return of the beloved Lavaburst.
But if you want the greatest example of a brand listening to its diehards, look no further than Taco Bell. I don’t even think it needs to be said, but I’ll put it out there: The Mexican Pizza. That little crispy, tostada-not-pizza creation had a whirlwind of a comeback, and it’s an illustration of how the fast food chain tries to establish a connection to its consumers. Taco Bell has even taken it a step further by adding polls into its app; customers can straight-up vote on which menu items should be resurrected.
“From petitions to social posts and Reddit conversations, our team utilizes social listening and consumer insights to plug into the appetite of our cult followers,” Sean Tresvant, Chief Brand Officer at Taco Bell, wrote in an email to The Takeout. “Our hope is this first-of-its-kind voting platform empowers them to share that same passion on our Taco Bell app to make a direct impact on our menu.”
Rewards members can currently vote within the Taco Bell app on whether to bring back the Double Decker Taco or the Enchirito. Fellow Takeout staff writer Dennis Lee already had his vote in.
Discontinued food and drinks that everyone wants back
What about my personal pick for a fast food item that should make a comeback? Will a true reincarnation of McDonald’s McWraps or Snack Wraps ever see the light of day in the US market? TikTok nearly fooled us by teasing their return, but there is still no concrete evidence that the wraps will return to the McDonald’s menu; in fact, representatives have dispelled the notion. It’s hard to keep hope alive considering the number of times that McDonald’s has had to go on record clarifying that no wraps are in the works—but I’ll try.
If anyone knows about the struggle to restore a long-lost product to its former glory, it’s the Tab fans out there. The sugar-free cola (made by the Coca-Cola company) lasted for around 60 years until it was officially discontinued in 2020. This move prompted the creation of the SaveTabSoda Committee, a group of fans who regularly bug the Coca-Cola Company to reconsider its decision by calling the customer service line and consistently sending emails to Coca-Cola leadership.
However, if the successful comebacks have taught us anything, it’s that no product is ever truly gone. The formulations and equipment are all right there, ready to be dusted off at any time. I, for one, have a sneaking suspicion (based on pure instinct rather than factual evidence from the brand itself) that the recently eliminated and heavily mourned Choco Taco will be resurrected once again. With enough determination, coordination, nagging, and naive hope, the people can influence the decisions of multi-million-dollar food chains. After all, they stand to profit the most from giving the people what they want.