It’s the end of 2017, when all the “experts” in the fast food industry get to talk about the trends they expect for the following year. Basically, it’s the time of year we all get to pretend that we’re smarter than we really are.
Having said that, I do have some thoughts on what the future will hold. So here’s my list of the top fast food trends for 2018:
Fast food is once again putting the spotlight on value menus, as evidenced by recent announcements that Taco Bell will add 20 items to its dollar menu, McDonald’s new value menu will be comprised of items ranging from $1-$3, and Del Taco is revamping and expanding its Buck and Under menu. With these three major players focusing on value menus again, it only makes sense that their competitors will soon do the same.
In recent months, fast food chains have been putting more effort into offering $5 meal deals for their customers. Taco Bell continues to offer variations of its $5 Box deals (often changing them when a new menu item comes out), KFC customers can choose one of a variety of $5 “Fill-Up Meals,” and recently Carl’s Jr. launched its own line of $5 “All-Star Value Meals” featuring items like spicy chicken sandwiches, double cheeseburgers, hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies. The industry clearly sees $5 as a good price point for both customers and bottom lines, so expect this trend to continue and grow.
When I first started at Industry Intelligence 10 years ago, I remember reading about McDonald’s trying out delivery service in New York City. My mind was blown. But today, fast food delivery is becoming old hat, especially with services like Postmates and driving services like Uber partnering with chains like McDonald’s to offer fast food right to your door. Fast food is on the delivery train in a major way, and it’s only a matter of time before all the major chains come aboard.
Last year, my co-workers and I made a special trip to Burger King solely to try the new Mac N’ Cheetos, and we were thrilled to hear the news that BK was now offering the menu item in a Flamin’ Hot variety. But we shouldn’t have been surprised. Over the past couple of years, Cheetos has slowly been making its way into fast food creations. Taco Bell once came out with a Cheetos Burrito, and Cheetos Chicken Fries was another limited-time invention from Burger King. Will the time soon come where we’ll see a fast food burger dusted with Cheetos topping or a Cheetos-flavored bun? My hunch is yes!
I still get excited when I receive fast food coupons in the mail, but I need to accept the inevitable: more and more fast food coupons are being offered exclusively via chains’ mobile apps. It makes sense: Fast food gets more people on their apps and customers have access to coupons whenever they want it. Print coupons are dying in the fast food industry, and that will continue in 2018.
Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage analyst for Industry Intelligence, a Los Angeles-based market intelligence firm. It's the perfect job for him: He loves junk food, he often works besides a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper, and anytime one of the health nuts in his office gives him grief for eating a Big Mac, he gets to smile and say: "Hey, this is my job." Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.