Nothing But Stuffed Crust - 2020 Pizza Hut - sm

Sunday Musings: Is Less The Response To Excess?

Here’s one for you… Could it be true, as has occurred to me, that the Fast Food pendulum hit one apex of its swing this past year, and is now is gliding back toward the other extreme in a flood of equally nutty ‘inspirations’ that would otherwise never occur to marketing and test kitchen types?

BK Extreme Burger - © 2020 Burger King TaiwanThe Extreme Burger from Burger King Japan. No Bun, just Patties
and Condiments. What about No Meat, just Condiments?

I’m not really a believer in cosmic mechanisms like Great Pendulums or Great Cycles that determine the course of history, as some folks (even some serious historians) propose. But I can’t stop thinking that recent developments in the Fast Food sphere may be taken as proof that some kind of occult process is governing the ‘evolution’ of the sector.

I have been lamenting out loud in this space the dearth of innovation and creativity in the vast marketing and test kitchen organizations behind the big Fast Food brands, especially in the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis which has strained the industry to its very seams. Now, I’ve detected this new, maladaptive direction and it bothers me that the same unlikely and potentially unhinged trend is overtaking many players’ menu decisi0ns…

What happens when everybody has a ‘new’ Chicken Sandwich?

Remember 2019, when Popeye’s launched a new simple but appealing Deep Fried Chicken Breast Sandwich in direct competition with the now-iconic stripped-down Sammy from Chick-Fil-A? Just a Breast, some pickles and some mayo. People lined up around the block to try it, and some even got into fist fights over it when supplies fell way short of demand.

The thing I wanted to point our here, though, is that – positive or negative – the reaction has resulted in the launch of almost identical Sandwiches by virtually every member of the competition in the top tier of the Chicken and Burger niches. Can’t miss a ‘trend’ like that! Now, when players in the second tier – larger players in the regional sphere like Jack In The Box for example – are following suit. Looks like this is one ‘trend’ that really is a trend and not just a fad.

But what I also see is that ‘things in general’ are suddenly going backwards, after one of the most boring Yuletide seasons in the history of Fast Food when inspiration just lay down and surrendered.

What is going on now?

The pendulum I mentioned I mentioned is swinging back to the minimalist extreme from a maximal position in which it seems even the industry leaders couldn’t think of anything more they could put on a Burger to differentiate it from the competitions’ products.

If the instant’s pause when the pendulum began to swing back was the appearance and the market madness surrounding the featureless plain Chicken on a Bun, then a second phase of that movement.

Example: Word from Burger King Japan that it’s new Extreme Burger is the latest thing we should all be watching. What is it? Simply a Bun less Burger consisting of 4 Beef Patties (on the top and bottom of the stack) sandwiching tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, onions, and cheese.

What next? The ‘No Mac’, featuring: ‘NO all beef patties, only Special Sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a Sesame Seed bun? We’ve already seen the ‘Impossible Whopper’ over at Burger King. Will the ‘Invisible Whopper’ be next, with only condiments on a bun?

Example: The aforementioned minimalist Chicken Sandwich with just Pickles (and maybe a schmere of Mayo) has already sparked a revolution of sorts. Are we ready for the PETA-approved ‘Ghost Chicken Sandwich’, featuring a healthy stack of Hand-Breaded, Deep Fried Chicken Skins (no meat) on a special roll? I know some folks who would jump to order that, regardless of how unhealthy it sounds. Nevertheless…

We already have a ‘Pizza’ that is ‘Nothing But Stuffed Crust’ from The Hut. Just a ring of rolled, Cheese-stuffed Crust and no Pie in the middle at all. Not even a ‘blank’ Crust.

Pizzas that are NOT real Pizzas?

Back to the mysterious East, and a recent trend towards emulating the all-time hits of the West. Witness the latest development from Pizza Hut Taiwan, where they’re market testing ‘Beef Wellington’ and ‘Spicy Hot Pot’ Pies which they expect to be guaranteed hits because of their impeccable, ancient places in their home cuisines? This is just the latest mis-read of their own audience by Asian minds behind big American companies expanding into their mammoth market.

A possible solution to the problem…

Can we not, please, come up with some sort of Fast Food version of a traditional dish that not already rend3ed into the street-food / hand-held food model which we can all get behind, at least for a while?

I remember the Bloomin’ Onion. What a great idea! But it never realized its full potential as a take-away finger food and got out of the sit-down resto onto the street. In that same vein, could someone not, please seriously explain the potential of ploughsharing the current curiosity with the Cauliflower, leveraging the Longstanding Asian tradition of lavishing various Spic3 Blends and Sauces on it? Each floret has it’s own natural handle for finger-eating. The similarity to Fries and Gravy (dipping Sauces) is almost staggering, if you come to consider it…

What’s your big idea?

We can do better than a Bunless Burger. Much better. Muse on that, and have some fun inventing something really, really new for the Fast Food Sector. Just be sure to patent it or copyright it, or whatever before you approach any of the big brands about it so they don’t steal it on you!

~ Maggie J.