Chicken and waffles may be the rising star of KFC’s menu in the U.S., but the chicken chain is tempting customers in China and France with other kinds of items on offer. And while Americans can’t wait for the arrival of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes each fall, patrons in Argentina crave its marshmallow Frappuccino. It’s not a given that these international items would fly stateside, but operators are increasingly looking beyond their borders for inspiration and innovative menu ideas. Technomic’s Global Foodservice Planning Program tracks these ideas across the globe, curating the most unique and on-trend items in 25 countries. These 15 recent additions on the international menus of U.S.-based chains may be worth a closer look.
1. Jack Nachos at Outback Steakhouse, Brazil
Outback is a destination for steak, but menuing jackfruit shows the far-reaching effect of plant-based eating, says Aaron Jourden, Technomic’s senior research manager, global. After all, Brazil is one of the largest beef-loving markets in the world. The nachos are described as “jackfruit ‘meat’ matched with crispy corn tortilla chips, with black beans, mix of cheeses and purple cabbage, accompanied by an exclusive cheese ranch sauce.”
3. Colonel Grilled Cheese at KFC, France
This sandwich from KFC layers crispy chicken into a grilled cheese sandwich—a combination Jourden believes could easily run in markets beyond France. The indulgent description sounds very craveable: “marinated and breaded chicken fillet, French mozzarella, cheddar sauce and caramelized onions on toasted sandwich bread.” Kind of like a deconstructed croque-monsieur, a classic French sandwich.
4. Perkedel at A&W, Indonesia
Snacks are big in Asia, with street vendors and market kiosks dispensing a wide variety of handhelds. With snacking and ethnic flavors on the rise in the U.S., restaurants are working some of these street foods into their menus. Perkedel is a veggie-filled fried potato fritter based on a traditional Indonesian snack. A&W’s version is made with potato, corn, celery and red onion, deep-fried until crispy.
5. Shack-ura Shakes at Shake Shack, Japan
Shake Shack debuted these shakes to coincide with cherry blossom season. Sakura, which means cherry blossom in Japanese, is also Japan’s most popular springtime ingredient and LTO inspiration (similar to pumpkin on fall menus in the U.S., says Jourden). Both shakes are sweet-and-salty milk-based beverages flavored with sakura, but one is tinted pink with cherry syrup, while the other looks like a vanilla shake.
6. Cotton Candy Pancakes at IHOP, Mexico
These pancakes sport unicorn colors of pink and baby blue and a sugary-sweet filling that makes them sound more like dessert than breakfast. IHOP’s Cotton Candy Pancakes are an extension of the chain’s Sweet Dreams line in Mexico, and feature two pancakes sandwiched with cotton candy mousse, then topped with whipped cream and colored sugar. Judging from the attention Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino captured, this item may appeal to the same Instagram-crazed audience.
7. Blueberry Tangerine Chia at TGI Fridays, Russia
This better-for-you dessert, based on superfood ingredients and fruit flavors, launched as a seasonal LTO in Russia. It includes ingredients that are considered to be healthier, such as chia seeds, plant-based coconut milk and peanuts. Fresh banana slices, tangerine wedges and black currant syrup are layered parfait-style in a glass Mason jar for an upgraded presentation.
8. Fondue Burger at Burger King, Spain
Although fondue has origins in Switzerland, this item can be considered a European take on an American favorite—the nacho cheese-topped burger. At Burger King in Spain, this LTO can be ordered with either grilled beef or crispy chicken, topped with Swiss cheese and cheese sauce and layered in a bun with cheese baked into the dough.
9. Smoked Butter Caramel Latte at Caribou Coffee, Turkey
Chefs continue to smoke all kinds of ingredients to infuse them with flavor, and Caribou is bringing this trendy technique to its line of lattes. The coffee drinks are available hot, iced or as a cold brew, all sharing a smoky-sweet flavor profile.
10. Ultimate Shakshuka at Denny’s, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Indy chefs took shakshuka from its Israeli-North African roots and adapted the dish for brunch menus. Now Denny’s has put it on the menu in its UAE locations, giving shakshuka an American diner spin with a Mexican twist. Poached eggs are served atop a gently spiced sauce made with tomatoes, bell peppers and onions, served in a cast-iron skillet with a side of tortillas. Although tortillas are not authentic to shakshuka, they make a handy vehicle for scooping up the sauce.
11. Banana Cream Pie Frappuccino at Starbucks, South Korea
This pastel-hued dessert drink is swirled in a tall glass topped with a flaky pie crust. Promoted as a “pie with a straw,” it’s described as a Frappuccino with the silkiness of banana cream filling and the fun of eating a crispy pie. First introduced in Japan, the item made its way to South Korea and may have the potential to move to other countries.
12. Toasties at Subway, India
Subway jumped on the snack bandwagon with these downsized open-face sandwiches in India. The chain cross-utilized ingredients from its larger subs to create a smaller handheld featuring melted cheese on toasted bread halves topped with veggies or pepperoni.
13. Sticky Rice Chicken Wings at KFC, China
KFC is China’s leading quick-service chain, according to Technomic. This seasonal LTO, which debuted for Chinese New Year, is KFC’s take on a traditional holiday dish. The wings are stuffed with sticky rice, scallops and ham—a more labor-intensive preparation than the chain’s usual fried wings but an innovative way to relate to Chinese culture.
14. Royale Cheesy Stix at Domino’s, Malaysia
To create this side, Domino’s differentiated its signature bread sticks with salted egg yolk—one of Southeast Asia’s trendiest flavors. The item is described as “cheesy, savory bread, rich with salted egg yolk,” and is part of a range of LTOs featuring this ingredient.
15. Vegetarian Happy Meal at McDonald’s, U.K.
Offering a vegetarian choice for children is a first for McDonald’s worldwide, but indicates that the chain is heeding the call for healthier kids meals. This Happy Meal is centered around a veggie wrap featuring a breaded red pepper and pesto veggie patty, shredded lettuce and ketchup in a tortilla. Carrots or a pineapple stick and organic milk can be ordered to complete the meal.