Marketers, Not Chefs, Are the Ones Behind Many Crazy Fast Food Creations

By Mike Pomranz |

Photo Composite: © TheCrimsonMonkey / Getty Images / John Muggenborg / Alamy Stock Photo

When you see a crazy new fast food menu item like the KFC Double Down or Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco, it’s natural to find yourself thinking, Who the hell came up with this? NPR’s "This American Life" decided to find the answer.

Producer Zoe Chace went to the test kitchen of Hardee’s (the same company as Carl’s Jr.) at their St. Louis headquarters. As the people behind one of the current who-the-hell-came-up-with-it menu items—the hot dog–meets-hamburger “Most American Thickburger”—this fast food chain seemed like as good a choice as any to figure out how the magic happens.

What she uncovered is that the guys (literally, four men) behind the brand’s crazy new products aren’t a team of chefs working on attaining culinary perfection. Instead, it’s a team of marketers: people Chace describes as experts in “will America actually buy this thing.”

Literally armed with spit cups, these four marketing gurus taste—and then spit out—test products before discussing their flavors and, equally important, their marketing potential. One example: a chicken sandwich topped with mashed potatoes and gravy. (Which, might I say, is genius.) Despite liking the taste (of course), the group is worried about its sales potential. They compare this to a burger topped with mac and cheese: Not as delicious, but far easier to market, because consumers will buy anything if it includes extra cheese.

Most people understand that marketing is a huge part of the fast food industry—it’s a huge part of any industry, but fast food’s use of clowns and kings makes it particularly in-your-face. Still, hearing the actual discussions that bring these products to fruition is interesting.

My big takeaway: Hardee’s is also working on pepperoni pizza fries. Or at least I think that’s the big takeaway. Once I heard pepperoni pizza fries, I had trouble focusing on the rest of the podcast.

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