As Americans become increasingly critical of fast food, companies like McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Burger King are pulling out all the stops to entice diners back to the drive-thru, either by innovation or sheer novelty.
The trend of one-upping competitors is an old one, but some fast food manufacturers have taken it to new levels in the last year or so. In 2012, Jack in the Box introduced a bacon milkshake, which seemed to be more of a publicity stunt than anything else. Before that, it was KFC's Double Down, a chicken sandwich that did away with bread entirely, opting to use two pieces of fried chicken to hold bacon in place.
More recently, Dunkin' Donuts tapped into a long-standing urban legend, the "Luther burger," wherein buns are replaced by glazed donuts. The reviews were mixed, but the company still managed to move product, if only out of consumer curiosity. Subway, meanwhile, diverged from its healthy image doing some of its earliest testing of the new Fritos-covered "Crunchy Chicken Enchilada Melt" in the Seattle area this summer.
Taco Bell has also been riding the wave of weird food. Earlier this month, Taco Bell lit up social media channels when they announced they would be expanding even further into "first meal" with a breakfast taco, which features a waffle in place of a hard corn tortilla. It was the most publicity Taco Bell had received in months. Before that, the company drummed up attention with their Doritos Los Tacos, which quickly became one of the hottest selling item; over half a billion were sold in just 14 months.
McDonald's is getting in on the action, too. In addition to adding healthier items, like their new smoothie line, the fast food giant is also trying to court those who are interested in fast food, but not necessarily burgers or snack wraps. After months of testing, McDonald's announced that, for a limited time, they'd be horning in on KFC's territory with "Mighty Wings," chicken wings which will make their national debut in September.
And of course, there's Burger King's big news, which was announced this week. Burger King, who have struggled to compete with the innovation of McDonald's and sheer gimmicky-ness of Taco Bell and Jack-in-the-Box, but with their $1 French Fry burger (it's exactly what it sounds like), the chain is hoping to charm a younger demographic.
At a time when the United States is facing record levels of obesity and heart disease, such decadent menu items may seem like a marketing mistake, but the fact is that the more ridiculous the product, the more buzz it gets -- and the more business.
Healthy options just don't seem to be as popular as, say, a burger with the fries already on it, though. Just a year after they were unveiled, some schools are already backing out of healthier lunch options -- which follows the trends that most fast food companies saw when they began replacing their less healthy options with salads and fruit. One small 2011 study found that just 3% of fast food consumers ordered non-traditional, health-geared options.
What's next in the race to see who can create the most unbelievable offering? It's hard to say -- but if current trends point to anything, it'll include bacon, something sweet, and something to get Twitter talking.