ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Consumers in the U.S. are familiar with the Doritos Locos Taco since its debut at Taco Bell in 2012, which sold one billion units in the first year. But the fast food chain just released the shell made entirely of one big Dorito in the U.K., prompting the BBC to ask, “How did we get to a place where a mash up between fast-food favorite and vending-machine staples are becoming commonplace?”
Similar products that encompass this fast food-fused mentality are popping up everywhere. Some include Pizza Hut’s calzone shaped like a Cheez-It, a square cracker with a cheddar flavor, and KFC’s fried-chicken sandwich stuffed with Cheetos puffy cheese-flavored crisps.
Typically, these specialty items are only available for a limited time. And despite causing a media splash about health and lack-of-nutrition concerns, these products prove successful for the fast-food chains that release them. Many inspire consumers to post photos of their buys to social media platforms such as Instagram. In turn, not only do the consumers enjoy a fun and slightly different meal but the companies get free marketing as well.
“All of these bizarro crossover and mash-up items might sound a bit dystopian, but for fast-food chains, there are few things more effective than new products that are both somehow familiar and new at the same time,” says Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams, a book that examines the link between fast food and American life.
These funky concepts are popular among millennials especially, perhaps because of general curiosity in the food, but there’s also their attachment to social media attention. In the case of the KFC Cheetos chicken sandwich, YouTube video reviews of people eating it gathered millions of views. Millions of views means millions of eyes and millions of eyes means millions of mouths—in short, the result could be millions.