Out of the Fry Basket, Into the Fire

Forget about the chicken wars. Quick-service restaurant and retail food and beverage brands have recently been ordering up some tasty promotions and collaborations centering on a hot menu item: French fries. Some examples:

  • In a widely reported pairing last week, Arby’s worked with craft distillery Tattersall to create a very limited run of two fry-flavored vodkas, available online at ArbysVodka.com, through distributor Surdyk’s. The collaboration is meant to support Arby’s recently introduced Crinkle Fries menu item. The potato-based spirit comes in two versions: Curly Fry (with cayenne, paprika, onion, and black pepper) and Crinkle Fry (with Kosher salt and sugar). As part of the promotion, chef Justin Sutherland created two bloody Mary recipes, one for each vodka, which also included the chain’s Arby’s and Horsey sauces.
  • Wendy’s latest activation in its long-running partnership with Adult Swim’s Rick & Morty is a Morty’smobile that delivers fries in the L.A. area as a promotion for Wendy’s new menu item, Hot & Crispy Fries. The delivery car is wrapped with French fry imagery and features a large sculptural depiction of Morty’s head, complete with the Wendy’s spokescharacter’s red pigtails, on the roof. Meanwhile, fans nationally can get free fries when they order through the chain’s app, as well as participate in a Prize Pack sweepstakes giving 50 winners a “French fry holder” and a gift card.
  • Chrissy Teigen, controversial influencer, TV host, bestselling cookbook author, licensor, and French fry lover, partnered with condiment maker Sir Kensington’s this summer for Honey Mustard Fry Sauce, based on her recipe. As part of the initiative, Teigen and Zero Point Zero produced a feature documentary for Sir Kensington’s and its parent Unilever called FRIES! The Movie. The fry sauce is sold through Amazon and grocery retailers including Fresh Direct and Thrive Market. The Sir Kensington’s line is available in food service as well as in online and offline retail channels.
  • HopCat, a Project BarFly-owned burger bar, took advantage of the new collegiate name, image, and likeness (NIL) licensing landscape by pairing with Payton Thorne, quarterback at Michigan State. One of Thorne’s first tasks is serving as the host of a charity event highlighting the chain’s Cosmik Fries, with $1 from every order donated to charity. Beyond that effort, the collaboration is wide ranging, including new menu items created with the student-athlete. Michigan-based HopCat has 17 locations in eight states.
  • Serendipity 3, a dessert-centric restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, known for its frozen hot chocolate, generated some publicity by offering a $200 plate of French fries this summer. (This follows past efforts including a $295 burger and a $1,000 ice cream sundae.) As part of the effort, Guinness World Records deemed the fries the most expensive in the world. Named Crème de la Crème Pommes Frites, the product is made of Chipperbec potatoes blanched in vinegar and champagne, fried twice in goose fat, seasoned with truffle salt and truffle oil, sprinkled with edible gold, and garnished with orchid, thinly slice truffles, and a truffle-infused Mornay dip (a béchamel sauce with Gruyère).
  • Taco Bell periodically introduces Nacho Fries as a limited-time item. For its most recent release this August (the seventh since 2018), the QSR paired with Southern California truffle hot sauce brand TRUFF for Loaded TRUFF Nacho Fries. The pairing was introduced as a one-store test item available in Newport Beach, California, and was accompanied by a Loaded TRUFF Fries Burrito. The recipes consist of spiced fries, TRUFF Nacho Cheese Sauce, steak, cheddar cheese, tomato, and sour cream. This is the first time Taco Bell has partnered with an outside brand for a sauce.
  • Singer Jhay Cortez teamed with McDonald’s in July to promote the QSR’s new loyalty program, My McDonald’s Rewards. The first activation was a World Famous Fan contest, in which fans compete to win free French fries for life, or one million Rewards points.

Many promotions in the QSR world—including some of the examples on this list—incorporate fries as one of the products being touted, along with burgers, chicken sandwiches, or other entrées. Placing the fries front and center is a less common phenomenon, giving these marketers an opportunity to stand out, generate social media buzz, and entice consumers with a reminder about a favorite menu item.

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