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Food combos can either go one of two ways: incredibly delicious or (for some) oddly ridiculous.
Whether it’s the Waffle Café’s waffle-donut that Chicagoans like to call the “Wonut” or San Francisco’s notorious hand-held “Sushirittos,” restaurants are constantly working hard to cook up bold (not to say crazy) new creations for their menus.
Just take KFC’s recent launch of their new fried chicken and pizza hybrid, the “chizza.”
The fast food chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, synonymous with its buckets of fried chicken and buttery biscuits, has found a way to dump cheese, marinara sauce, pepperoni, cheese and pineapples atop a bed of fried chicken.
Although this intriguing new item will be available only at KFC locations in the Philippines, American fast food outlets have had their share of interesting (not to say strange) items as well.
So why the "chizza"? And why now?
According to Scott Allmendinger, director of CIA Consulting at the Culinary Institute of America, this is an exciting time for the restaurant industry. “It’s a hugely competitive space,” he told TODAY.com
It turns out there’s a lot more that goes into developing these “wacky” menu items than deciding on a catchy name. The industry is working hard to draw attention back to itself and maintain its original niche.
“With the economy improving, there’s a brand new category that’s come along called 'fast casual,' which is a casual experience in terms of food quality, and close to fast food prices,” Allmendinger explained. The rising popularity of these fast casual restaurants, such as Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill, has been a real wake-up call for the McDonald’s and KFCs of the world.
“With the fast casual sector growing somewhere between 7 and 10 percent a year and the traditional fast food sector growing somewhere around 3 and a half percent per year right now,” Allmendinger told TODAY.com, fast food chains are doing all they can to differentiate themselves.
“Once upon a time, a hamburger was a hamburger. Nowadays people are looking for authentic hand-held foods from around the globe,” he said. Fusion restaurants like Sushiritto take that a step further by combining unlikely foods and producing something creative yet tasty.
However, not every mash-up is a success. The most common reason a new item tanks is that it does not resonate with the brand.
“When people do things that are just a little bit too wacky and outside of their core brand relevance, then it’s always a question or always an issue. There are certain core foods like French fries, burgers and pizzas which are the core of fast food menus, and people just don’t like that stuff being messed around with,” Allmendinger said. So Wendy’s probably won’t have sushi on their menu anytime soon.
Allmendinger cites operational issues as another contributor to a restaurant’s downfall. “One notable fast food company tried to add pizza to its repertoire, but they were getting 50 percent of their sales in their drive-through, and for some reason they didn't take the time to see if the pizzas would actually fit through the window.”
Allmendinger tells his clients that the best and most creative food can be found on college and university campuses. “I always tell them, if you’re not looking at what college and university food service directors are serving the next generation then you’re missing the boat.”
At the end of the day, the restaurant business is an age-old industry constantly being influenced by its customers and managers, he adds. “McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish, for instance, was created by a franchiser who was trying to find something that he could feed his Catholic customers on Fridays during Lent. Another franchise saw an opportunity for breakfast, so they came up with the idea for the Egg McMuffin.”
While those two items introduced in the 1960s have managed to stick around, earlier experiments by various restaurants — including McDonald’s — were not so successful. Here are a few menu items that were short-lived for one reason or another.
- McDonald’s McPizza
- Taco Bell’s Seafood Salad
- Sonic’s Pickle-O’s
- Coors Sparkling Water
- Jollibee’s Tuna Pie