The PSL has been going strong for years.
A successful limited time offer (LTO) can do quite a bit of legwork for a fast-food chain — such products often allow for greater experimentation while the limited availability helps create a sense of urgency and motivates customers to come in while they still can.
An example that goes back nearly two decades Starbucks (SBUX) – Get Free Report‘s pumpkin spice latte (PSL). While the coffee giant first launched the coffee with the vaguely “autumnal” combination of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg in 2003, it still sees gets an annual boost in visitors as soon as it brings it back every fall.
A new report from traffic analytics company Placer.ai found that Starbucks visits drop between February and April and then spike again during the first week of November.
Now available in mid-August, PSL is a precursor to the wider holiday menu that, last year, included classics like the caramel brûlée and chestnut praline lattes as well as the new chocolate pistachio swirl in the red cups that have also become a corporate symbol of the season.
In 2022, Starbucks visits in December were 25% higher than they were in June.
Starbucks, McDonald’s And Wingstop Get Their LTOs Right
“The brand succeeds in owning its promotional calendar by leveraging annually recurring LTOs that create seasonal cravings for specialty Starbucks products,” Shira Petrack of Placer.ai writes.
Normally known for the stability of its menu, McDonald’s (MCD) – Get Free Report saw a 37.6% increase in traffic when it launched its adult Happy Meal at the start of last October. The toys featured nostalgic McDonald’s characters such as the Hamburglar and soon started appearing on eBay (EBAY) – Get Free Report with what was in one case a $1 million starting bid.
Chicken wing chain Wingstop (WING) – Get Free Report regularly releases new sauce flavors tied to various cultural trends and sporting events. By far the most popular one was its “blazed & glazed” flavor for 4/20. While the chicken wings did not contain any actual marijuana, the nod to it still helped Wingstop see an 18.4% boost in traffic during the week they were available.
Another chain that Placer identified as succeeding on the LTO front is Yum! Brands (YUM) – Get Free Report-owned Taco Bell. The chain is known for having a rotating menu in which new items are constantly added, taken away and, if customer response is strong enough, brought back again.
Urgency Is A Powerful Marketing Tool
In August 2022, CEO Mark King promised never take away to take away the Mexican Pizza after customer frustration over it being brought back but repulled again just a few weeks later due to Taco Bell running out.
At the moment, Taco Bell is also asking fans to vote on which of two LTOs from the 2010 era it should bring back this spring.
“Dining concepts usually use LTOs as strategic tools to drive publicity, visits, and sales,” Petrack writes. “But some companies – like Taco Bell – find themselves launching inadvertent LTOs when they run out of much-anticipated permanent additions to menus.”
In general, nostalgia often works well to bring in both new and lapsed customers. Owned by Darden Restaurants (DRI) – Get Free Report, Olive Garden also saw foot traffic spike after bringing back its “Never Ending Pasta Bowl” promotion for October and November 2022.
At a time of rampant food inflation and rising cost of eating out, the all-you-can-eat factor was particularly attractive to many diners.