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Fast Food Industry Going Barbecue With Wave Of New BBQ Products

LOS ANGELES, October 29, 2014 () – When it came to major fast food chains and barbecue, it was pretty simple: The McDonald’s McRib sandwich. That was it. Period. End of sentence.

But in the past several months, McDonald’s cult-classic sandwich has gotten a lot of company. Wendy’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Carl’s Jr. are just some of the chains that have offered barbecue-based products on their menus, sometimes even launching major ad campaigns to promote the product.

The reason for this increase in barbecue popularity should surprise no one: Millennials. It’s yet another way the fast food industry is attempting to tap into this market base, who are known for preferring sweet, smoky and hot flavors, making barbecue a no-brainer choice to lure these customers.

That’s why Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s recently offered a burger topped with smoked beef brisket and spicy mesquite BBQ sauce. Or why Burger King currently offers a burger topped with barbecue sauce and onion rings on its 2-for-$5 menu. Or why Pizza Hut launched an ad campaign earlier this year featuring country music singer Blake Shelton hawking its new line of BBQ pizzas. Or why Wendy’s contracted actors Ralph Macchio and Alfonso Ribeiro, and former professional wrestler Steve Austin to talk about “barbecue inaccessibility” for Wendy’s “#BBQ4America” campaign, featuring its current line of limited-time barbecue items.

Before fast food focused so much of its attention on millennials, McDonald’s essentially had the quick-service barbecue market covered with the McRib. Oh sure, from time to time someone else would come out with something topped with barbecue sauce, but never something that would take the attention off the McRib, whose history of poor sales has caused McDonald’s to remove it from its permanent menu not once but twice since its debut in 1981. The McRib now has such a following that there are websites devoted to where you can find the seasonal sandwich around the U.S. year-round, and a spoof on the sandwich was even featured in a 2003 episode of “The Simpsons.”

But by now, a clear pattern has formed. If millennials tend to like something, the fast food industry will jump all over it. Barbecue is no exception. It’s uncertain whether any of these limited-time items will catch on permanently, but expect more BBQ options to come down the pipeline as the industry tries to drum up more business.

Nevin Barich is the Food and Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence. Email him here or follow him on Twitter here.

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