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The Craziest Limited Edition Fast Food Products!

Matt O’Connor

A common marketing stunt that many fast food companies use to gauge interest in their brand is releasing exclusive promotional items that are available only for a limited time. When these food items are announced, a huge crowd of customers that are desperate to try this new and exclusive product will usually follow. The main goal of this kind of release is to reinvigorate public interest in the company while offering an experience unlike any other. Over the years, there have been a number of noteworthy limited time products put out by some of the biggest names in the fast food industry. These are some of the best limited edition products that had people saying “I’ve got to try that!”.

The Szechuan Redemption

Perhaps the most bizarre yet fascinating instance of customers going crazy for a limited time fast food product was the infamous McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce fiasco. Originally, the chain released the spicy, tangy sauce as a promotion for the 1998 Disney film Mulan. The sauce was created to resemble a traditional recipe that was prominent in Chinese culture. But like with any major blockbuster, the film soon left theaters and the promotion ended, leaving the sauce to quickly fade from the public consciousness. That was until 2017, when the hit adult television series Rick and Morty referenced the sauce in one of its episodes. With the show having a rabid and dedicated audience, people became interested in the sauce once again. At first, McDonald’s paid little attention to the trend, but they were forced to listen when Rick and Morty fans organized demonstrations in restaurants across the United States, demanding that the sauce be brought back. Surprisingly, McDonald’s listened and brought back the spicy sauce for a limited time release. Unfortunately, the sauce’s created further issues. The sauce was so popular that customers would stake out their location McDonald’s for sometimes hours at a time, only to be crushed when they were informed that the sauce was sold out. There were even reports that the viral sauce had sold out in less than five minutes! Things were just as rampant on the second hand market, with users selling sealed packs of Szechuan Sauce for absurd prices on sites like eBay. But eventually, the craze died down. McDonald’s had occasionally brought back the sauce after 2017, with another limited release occurring in March of 2022.

That’s Supposed To Be A Unicorn?

As the biggest coffee chain in the world, Starbucks is no stranger to limited time releases. One of their most famous menu items is the Pumpkin Spice Latte, which is only available during the fall season. But it was in 2017 when the company released a drink that would drive its employees and customers to insanity. The Unicorn Frappuccino was initially launched during a bizarre trend of unicorn themed food. Each beverage contained over 500 calories worth of sugar, powder, and syrup. The unhealthy nature of the drink sparked a lot of backlash, including a statement by the Stratford Health Association slamming the overreliance of sugar that was present in the menu item. But it wasn’t just the customers that were outraged, many Starbucks baristas expressed their frustration with the sheer amount of time and effort it took to make the drinks at such a rapid pace. In a viral video released on Twitter (now X), barista Braden Burson recorded himself calling out the drink. “I have never made so many Frappuccinos in my entire life. I have unicorn crap all in my hair, on my nose! I have never been so stressed out in my entire life!” The drink only lasted five days on the Starbucks menu before being promptly taken off. While Starbucks considered the Unicorn Frappuccino a success, it was a nightmare for the employees that were tasked with making them.

Trust Your Spider-Sense

Like many of their competitors, Burger King loves to release limited items for marketing and promotional purposes. But what they’re most known for is their legendary burger, the Whopper. In May of 2023,  to promote the highly anticipated animated film Spider Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Burger King released a special variant of the Whopper ahead of the films release in June with striking red buns and black sesame seeds that were made to resemble the iconic superhero. Unlike some of their other limited releases, the Spider-Verse Whopper was notable because it tasted exactly the same as a more traditional Whopper. The only difference between the two versions of the burger is the dyed buns and seeds. While the burger didn’t receive much feedback initially, people began to take an interest when a social media trend that consisted of people filming themselves eating the Whopper while acting disinterested by the taste, only to cut to a photo or a separate video of the customer being wheeled into or sitting in the hospital. This meme emerged because of Spider-Man’s origin story where he was bitten by a radioactive spider, which led people to joke that you would get the same arachnid based powers if you ate the burger. Even with the jokes made about it, the Spider-Verse Whopper was still a success and led to the film at the center of the promotion becoming one of the most critically and commercially successful films of 2023. 

A Little Too Much Finger Licking

During some limited fast food releases, some companies will partner up to promote another famous brand through an exclusive item. A partnership that no one saw coming was the collaboration between KFC and Cheetos in 2019. During that summer, KFC released a number of limited time items with a newly added Cheetos flare including branded fries, hot wings, and even mac and cheese that were all coated in the ever tasty Cheeto dust. But the star of the show was the limited edition Cheetos sandwich. The sandwich consisted of a traditional KFC chicken filet sandwich but topped with Cheetos and special Cheeto flavored dressing. As a promotion for this limited time event, a pop-up stand in Los Angeles with help from experienced Taco Truck owner Roy Choi. KFC has always had a knack for promotional stunts like this, and their Cheetos collaboration was one of their most memorable ones.

Happy Birthday Grimace

Finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for. On June 12th, 2023, McDonald’s released a special berry flavored milkshake to coincide with the 52nd birthday of Grimace, a giant purple monster and one of the many often forgotten characters from the fast food chain’s marketing library. Upon its release, the Grimace Shake quickly became a massive phenomenon overnight. While the shake itself wasn’t exactly considered to be all that tasty, the sheer popularity and notoriety of the item was more prominent. But one aspect of the Grimace Shake’s time in the spotlight that people remember fondly is the unusual but hysterical TikTok surrounding the drink. The trend usually consisted of short videos uploaded to social media sites (typically on TikTok) with users filming themselves taking a sip of the berry flavored beverage before amusingly cutting to them lying on the floor pretending to be dead with the purple liquid splattered around them to make it look like a crime scene. TikTok user Austin Frazier was credited for initially kicking off the trend when he posted a video of him drinking the Grimace Shake and him lying on the ground with the shake spilled around him on June 13th, one day after the drink first released. This trend continued to grow in both size and spectacle, with users ramping up their creativity with dozens of videos showing people acting out scenarios of them dying in bizarre ways by the hands of the purple shake. The Grimace Shake lasted until July 9th. Similar to the Spider-Verse Whopper, the Grimace Shake brought about a comedic response to a product that normally wouldn’t get that much attention. But what was special about this berry flavored drink is how widespread the beverage’s popularity was and the hilarious videos that demonstrated a shared talent fueled by everyone’s enjoyment of a limited time release.