Unicorn Frappuccino, McRib sandwiches, Bacon Sriracha Fries -- limited time offers (LTOs) have resonated with a wide consumer base. Since 2010, the median number of LTOs has increased 82% at limited-service chains and 80% at full-service chains, according to Datassential’s Blueprint for LTO Success Keynote Report. The LTO environment has matured to a point where promotions with the greatest potential are those that reflect an operator’s specific goals, align with a menu’s overall positioning and generate excitement among core customers. When an LTO is successful, it garners buzz from consumers, who often will return, and usually with friends, to enjoy the specialty item again before time runs out.
Best practices for LTO concept testing
There is great opportunity for operators to leverage LTOs, as at least half of consumers are interested in all types, though seasonal and value-priced items are particularly appealing. Creating a successful LTO involves following best practices for concept testing, which Datassential has outlined in four stages: The first stage is informed ideation (which includes trend discovery and idea generation), followed by express screening (where viable ideas are identified and prioritized), then concept refinement (which narrows in on developing top-performing ideas), and lastly full testing (where concept potential is assessed and optimization occurs).
When asked about the last LTO consumers ordered, three-quarters agreed that it was unique, enjoyable and craveable, according to our Keynote Report. To achieve these key elements, operators can include opinions from potential customers in LTO development (like taste testing and submitting flavor suggestions), as well as seek input from managers and other employees at the unit level. LTOs also have a greater chance of being successful if they leverage great photos across marketing mediums (many operators promote LTOs through social media, particularly Facebook) and feature approachable product names accompanied by easily understood ingredient descriptions that communicate an item that’s premium, but not too adventurous. With 48% of operators stating that their LTO sales have increased, promoting LTOs can present a viable way to drive sales.
How operators are leveraging LTOs
Recently, operators have been offering more beverage LTOs – one in five LTOs in 2016 was a beverage, compared to only one in ten LTOs in 2010.
And along with beverage LTOs, seasonality is resonating with consumers and has become a defining LTO characteristic that often leads to the item returning since it fits neatly into regular menu planning calendars, evidenced by products like Starbucks’ soon-to-return Pumpkin Spice Latte. The PSL, a consumer-favorite drink that seemingly returns earlier and earlier every year, featured a twist last year in celebration of its 13th birthday -- a unique Pumpkin Spice Whip topping made with real pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove. When operators were asked what contributed to their successful LTOs, according to the Keynote Report, 60% said seasonality was a factor. One operator says its “summertime LTOs are the most popular by far. We feature dishes that incorporate all the wonderful, seasonal, organic produce we get at the local farm. These are wildly popular with our clientele, especially with healthier eating being so hot right now.”
Running additional seasonal LTOs is among the most common changes expected at operators in the coming year.
How suppliers can support LTO development
There are a variety of ways suppliers can help operators with LTO development, from ideation and sourcing to staff training and marketing. Researching what consumers want from LTOs and what food trends to incorporate is one of the more pressing needs suppliers can meet for operators.
Jaclyn Marks is the publications specialist at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase the Blueprint for LTO Success Keynote Report, contact Datassential Managing Director Brian Darr at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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