New takes on burgers and chicken sandwiches are among the most popular—and least risky—sort of limited-time offer. These mainstream items have broad appeal and the potential to spur purchase, but they don’t generate a lot of excitement about a brand or its menu. Instead, it’s LTOs with high marks for uniqueness that have the ability to differentiate the menu and create buzz, according to Lauren Hallow, consumer insights manager for foodservice researcher Technomic.
Click ahead to see the 10 most unique limited-time offers offered at restaurant chains from January through February, as indicated by potential purchasers in Technomic’s MenuSurf 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.)
10. Pomegranate Acai Tea Latte
Beverage LTOs are on the rise, with operators tying promotions into seasonal flavors and on-trend ingredients. Caribou Coffee’s Pomegranate Acai Tea Latte resonated as a unique item with 73% of potential purchasers. The description includes several health-promoting antioxidants, such as green tea, acai and pomegranate, with beetroot, rosemary, rosehips and steamed coconut milk rounding out the ingredient list. This better-for-you latte is also vegan, a selling point for some customers.
9. Winter Maple Squash Salad
The combination of ingredients in this salad from Sweetgreen made it stand out for 74% of potential purchasers. The description highlights freshness, quality and flavor-enhancing techniques: balsamic roasted squash, caramelized onions and leeks, local apples, basil, shaved Parmesan, organic arugula and organic mesclun tossed with a maple-mustard vinaigrette. Sweetgreen plays up sourcing and seasonality, which works to entice customers.
8. Sweet Sriracha Brussels Sprouts
The Counter debuted this side dish on its winter menu, and 74% of potential purchasers found it unique. The Brussels sprouts are fried and tossed with Sriracha and sea salt, incorporating two popular ingredients: Sriracha and Brussels sprouts. Sriracha is now a mainstream condiment, but tossing it with crispy Brussels sprouts is an unusual pairing—an idea that may appeal to consumers looking for a french fry alternative.
7. Boozy Oreo S’mores Extreme Shake
TGI Fridays puts two well-loved cookies and a shot of alcohol into this milkshake, a combo that 74% of potential purchasers found “extreme” enough to differentiate it from other spiked shakes. The LTO is a blend of all-natural ice cream, Oreos, toasted marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, whipped cream, brandy and vanilla liqueur. The other items in this top 10 roundup may appeal to the health-conscious, but other consumers are looking for more indulgent treats in winter.
6. Irish Coffee Pancakes
Another Broken Egg Cafe gives pancakes a decadent twist, setting this item apart in the opinion of 74% of potential purchasers. Cold-brew coffee and chocolate chips are folded into the batter, and the pancakes are topped with Irish whiskey-infused whipped cream. In addition, the mention of cold brew in the description positions this item squarely on consumers’ trend radar.
5. Pineapple Cinnamon Agua Fresca
Consumers are looking for alternatives to sugary sodas, and more operators are responding, developing house-made soft drinks with cleaner, less sweet ingredients. Pappasito’s Cantina offered an agua fresca that reflects its Latin roots; it’s made with pineapple juice, fresh lime and cinnamon and sweetened with agave nectar. Seventy-five percent of potential purchasers agreed that this beverage was distinctive.
4. Turducken Sandwich
Potbelly Sandwich Shop turned a Cajun specialty, the turducken, into a limited-time sandwich. A turducken is traditionally made by stuffing a boneless chicken into a duck and then into a turkey, then filling the gaps with a breadcrumb mixture. Potbelly describes this sandwich as a combination of turkey, duck, chicken and cornbread stuffing, toasted with cheddar and topped with cranberry honey sauce. The LTO was categorized as unique by 75% of potential purchasers.
3. Roasted Squash and Blue Cheese Bowl
Balsamic roasted squash showed up more than once on Sweetgreen’s winter menu, here combined with organic wild rice, shredded kale, raisins, apples, walnuts, blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Adding roasted squash to the other ingredients in this bowl differentiated it for 76% of potential purchasers.
2. King of Hearts Calzone
Perhaps it’s the unique name of this item that struck a chord with 76% of potential purchasers. The King of Hearts Calzone launched by Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom also boasts different ingredients than the usual: The filling is a blend of artichoke dip, tomato, red onion, roasted garlic, artichoke hearts, mozzarella, ricotta and basil. The menu description also includes a topping of roasted artichoke hearts and toasted Asiago cheese, with a dollop of pizza sauce on the side. Together, these elements pushed the King of Hearts Calzone to the No. 2 spot for uniqueness.
1. Buffalo Roasted Cauliflower
Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom also menued Buffalo Roasted Cauliflower in February, an item that 78% of potential purchasers found unique. The prep is described as cauliflower tossed in Buffalo sauce, then topped with crumbled blue cheese, chopped celery and green onions. It comes with ranch dressing on the side. Consumers seeking a plant-forward version of Buffalo wings might find this item a differentiator.