When Burger King brought back chicken fries to its menu last summer, the company explained that the decision was made due to a widespread campaign of fast food fanatics clamoring for their return via online petitions and social media. “Guest outcries reached a point where they could no longer be ignored,” reads a BK statement in August, which also noted that chicken fries, which hadn’t been available since 2012, would be back on menus nationally only for a limited time.
Apparently, while the “limited time” window seems to suffice for the Shamrock Shakes, McRibs, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the fast food world, a merely temporary return for chicken fries just didn’t cut it. This week, BK announced that the breaded and fried chicken strips were becoming a permanent part of the menu, to the delight of the fanatical tweeting masses.
Not everyone is happy about the return of chicken fries. Among the disappointed are those who are passionate about bringing back some other food or drink item they’ve craved desperately since it disappeared. For instance, the Beefy Crunchy Movement Facebook page, which has over 16,000 likes, voiced disgust that BK listened to its fans by making chicken fries permanent, yet Taco Bell has ignored the passionate calls for the return of the burrito featuring Flamin’ Hot Fritos inside. The Beefy Crunch Burrito was brought back by popular demand in 2013, but it disappeared quickly and hasn’t been seen in nearly two years.
Other Taco Bell fans have demanded the return of the extra-spicy Volcano Menu, while still other fast food customers have focused their passion on bringing back items ranging from McDonald’s hot mustard sauce to KFC Chicken Little sandwiches. Yes, KFC currently has Chicken Littles on the menu, but the supposedly “new and improved” version is quite different from the one sold decades ago, and critics have bashed the new item as little more than a “misappropriation of the Chicken Little’s good name.”
What’s interesting—and quite revelatory about human nature and our most passionate cravings—is that there’s quite a long history of failed healthy fast food items, yet there doesn’t seem to be much of a movement to bring any of them back to menus. Instead, campaigns to bring back beloved food and drink from the dead overwhelmingly lean toward those heavy in salt, sugar, grease, calories, and caffeine. Here’s a list of cult favorites that disappeared for a while and recently resurfaced after the people have spoken.
Burger King Chicken Fries
The same week that BK announced the return of chicken fries, word also spread that it was significantly scaling back availability of its once-hyped low-calorie French fries dubbed Satisfries. This juxtaposition seems to get to the heart of why consumers head to fast food establishments in the first place.
French Toast Crunch Cereal
Amid plummeting cereal sales, General Mills recently decided that bringing back French Toast Crunch would be a way to boost business. “We have been overwhelmed by the consumer conversations, requests and passion for the cereal to come back,” a company statement explained of French Toast Crunch, which was sold from 1995 to 2006, and has been back on store shelves as of January. General Mills also periodically plays the nostalgia card by offering Boo Berry, Franken Berry, and other “spooky” cereals around Halloween, sometimes with retro-look packaging.
Coca-Cola said that last fall it brought back SURGE, a Mountain Dew-like soda popular in the ’90s, due to a “passionate and persistent community of brand loyalists who have been lobbying … to bring back their favorite drink.” A SURGE Movement Facebook page had 129,000 likes at the time, and it’s now pushed to over 215,000 likes. The initial batch of rereleased SURGE sold out almost immediately.
Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger
The “it” fast food item of 2013 was undeniably the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy’s, which like most new chain restaurant menu products was first introduced as a limited-time purchase. It wasn’t gone for long, however. “You said ‘bring it back.’ So we did,” Wendy’s tweeted to the world last summer, less than a year after the 680-calorie Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger disappeared from menus. “Then you said keep it on the menu.” Indeed, it’s now part of Wendy’s permanent menu.
At one point, a box of chocolate-covered Twinkies known as Chocodiles was selling for $90 on eBay. That alone should tell you how badly consumers were jonesing for the oversugared sweet that hadn’t been widely available for years. It also explains why the manufacturer, Hostess, brought Chocodiles back last summer. “In the past Chocodiles seemed to be shrouded as much in mystery as in chocolate, inspiring an obsession among fans that was truly the stuff of legends,” William Toler, president and CEO of Hostess Brands, said at the time. “Now, fanatics will once again be able to satisfy their cravings and a new generation will be able to experience the magic for the first time.”
McDonald's Chicken Selects
The recent return of Chicken Selects to McDonald’s menus has been heralded as a potential savior for the fast food giant, which has been suffering from lackluster sales for years. “Although they are back by popular demand, they will only be available for a limited time,” McDonald’s warned. Alas, the return of Chicken Selects was not combined with the national reappearance of what many consider the perfect dipping sauce, hot mustard.
Pepsi Made With Real Sugar
Last summer, PepsiCo rolled out three flavors of Pepsi (regular, vanilla, cherry) sweetened with real sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. In the past the company has also made and marketed “throwback” versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew, which use real sugar and feature old-school logos on cans, and it recently introduced another soda with real sugar, DEWShine. Have the masses actually been begging for Pepsi and Mountain Dew made with real sugar? It’s not clear they have. But Mexican Coke has been a cult favorite among hipsters for years, supposedly because it uses real cane sugar.
Tim Hortons Chocolate Eclair
The Canadian donut-and-coffee chain asked customers which “classic” menu item of yore they’d like to see return in 2014 to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, and the top vote-getter, with 40%, was chocolate éclair. The éclair won out even though one Toronto Star reviewer called the whipped cream “fake and disgustingly sweet.”
Olive Garden Braised Beef and Tortelloni
Casual sit-down dining chains have steadily been losing business to fast-casual superstars like Chipotle and Panera Bread. So when a critical mass of Olive Garden customers mounted a social rallying cry to put the braised beef and tortelloni entrée back on menus, the company listened. It returned to Olive Garden last spring, to the rejoicing of many on the restaurant brand’s Facebook page.
Miller Lite (Packaging)
Miller Lite never went away. Like many macro brews, Lite sales have dropped steadily, coinciding with the rise of craft beer. But Lite has never been taken off the market. What’s it doing in this list then? One thing about Miller Lite has been brought back from the past—for about a year now it’s been sold in vintage-looking cans featuring the original logo—and the old-school approach has yielded greatly improved sales. Another old-school beer, Coors Banquet, has similarly been able to drum up sales because of it’s been packaged in throwback “stubby” bottles that some drinkers can’t seem to resist.