Merchandise Trends for Food, Beverage, and Restaurant Brands

Food and beverage brands, including supermarket staples like Spam and Kellogg’s, and fast-food restaurants such as Burger King and Taco Bell, have long understood the importance of using promotional products as an advertising medium. From swag giveaways on social media to limited edition promotional product campaigns, using branded merchandise to connect with loyal consumers and promote your brand is an essential component of food marketing. We recently decided to examine some of the promotional product trends currently being utilized by food, beverage, and restaurant brands.

Food Brand Apparel and Accessory Trends

Stouffer’s and Chipotle were two of the latest major brands in the food industry to launch online company stores. In the latter half of 2020, both companies began to offer branded apparel and accessories to their loyal customers via online stores. Both brands chose to center their online merch stores around causal clothing, which has also been trending with consumers spending more time at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Megan McLaughlin, Stouffer’s brand marketing manager, told Forbes that the decision to launch a branded merchandise line near the end of 2020 was in response to requests from their customers for branded apparel and other products: “It was a no-brainer to deliver even more comfort and coziness at a time when people need it most.” Stouffer’s online merchandise shop opened just in time for holiday shoppers to snap up homey gifts such as mac & cheese-adorned sweatsuits, socks, and sleeping bags. Other products in their “Comfy Collection” include onesie pajamas, scrunchies, and winter pom pom hats featuring graphics of their signature lasagna.

The wait is over! Stouffer’s merch store is now LIVE!

— Stouffer’s (@stouffers) November 17, 2020

Chipotle’s line of merchandise includes responsibly sourced, eco-friendly apparel and accessories which ties in with its environmentally conscious branding and also capitalizes on this growing consumer trend. Their apparel line includes garments dyed with natural dyes made from upcycled avocado pits from their restaurants as well as shirts which can be customized to list your favorite Chipotle order.

McDonald’s – which has been trying its hand at lines of athleisure on and off for years – launched its first year-round shoppable line of brandable apparel and accessories in the U.S. at the end of 2019. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, “This exclusive collection is only available on the fast food giant’s website and is not in collaboration with any outside companies, a departure from the company’s previous forays with fashion brands and retailers.” Branded apparel and accessories available in McDonald’s Golden Arches Unlimited online store include Big Mac and French fry print sweatshirts and socks as well as seasonal items such as mittens and knitted holiday sweaters.

“Moment Merch”: from Face Masks to Puzzles

In addition to casual apparel aimed at consumers seeking comfort at home, food brands have also started including branded face masks as well as puzzles and board games in their online company stores. Hormel created a bacon scented cloth face mask for a virtual swag giveaway event promoting their Black Label Bacon brand. Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Utz, and Tapatío are selling branded face masks in their online company stores. Dunkin’s online store is currently sold out of its reusable face mask which has been a hit with Dunkin’ enthusiasts seeking fashionable PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic. Their branded face masks are also sold at the register in select Dunkin’ stores.

Food brands seeking to meet increased consumer demand for crafts, board games and puzzles during the pandemic include Taco Bell, Planters, and Heinz. Heinz quickly sold out of its limited edition all-red ketchup puzzle after its launch in the spring of 2020. Taco Bell sells several different jigsaw puzzles in its virtual “Taco Shop” and Planters is currently selling a Mr. Peanut Puzzle. Coca-Cola’s online store offers branded versions of classic board games such as Monopoly and Checkers.

Limited Editions and Cross-Promotions

Limited edition promotional products, including holiday-themed merchandise, provide a way for food brands to generate additional revenue with non-food merchandise – and generate publicity and increase brand awareness at the same time. Hidden Valley Ranch’s online shop includes limited edition, seasonal items such as a custom ranch bottle for Valentine’s Day (aka Valentine Ranch-O-Gram). Jimmy Dean’s quirky sausage-themed holiday gifts (as well as sausage-scented wrapping paper) and Taco Bell’s whimsical limited run lines of apparel, accessories, and other goods (including a Taco Bell bicycle and – sadly, sold out – hot sauce packet pool floats) are also popular with brand enthusiasts.

Cholula sold a limited quantity of contactless hot sauce dispensers online in December 2020. With the product in high demand by Cholula fans seeking a sanitary way to get their hot sauce fix during a pandemic, and all proceeds of the flash sale being donated to charity, this promotion was a great way for the company to make a connection with their customers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We’re putting your favorite flavor drip on tap: Introducing the Cholula X @Simplehuman Cholula Touch-Free Dispenser. Touch-free has never been so hot. Find out more:

— Cholula Hot Sauce (@CholulaHotSauce) November 11, 2020

Collaborations between brands on promotional products are also an excellent source of publicity. Recent cross-promotions include Nissin Foods (which sells popular convenience foods like Cup Noodles and Top Ramen) and Sanrio (Hello Kitty). Nissin’s online Fan Store currently sells Hello Kitty and Cup Noodles co-branded t-shirts, sweatshirts, jogging pants, socks, and other accessories. Top Ramen and Hello Kitty branded apparel and accessories are also available in the store, with many items currently sold out.

Adidas and Arizona Iced Tea also recently chose to delight their customers by collaborating on a line of co-branded merchandise. A line of Adidas sneakers, featuring designs reminiscent of the artwork that appears on cans of Arizona teas, were released at the beginning of 2021. The two brands previously collaborated on a line of 99-cent sneakers back in 2019, which quickly sold out at a pop-up store in New York City.

Merchandise Trends for Food Brand Merch in 2021: Consumer Demand Continues

Supermarket brands like Stouffer’s and fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle will continue to open online stores selling branded apparel and other promotional products to meet consumer demand in 2021. Two eagerly anticipated branded merchandise lines to look out for this year include Ferrara Candy Company (whose brand lines include NERDS, SweeTARTS, Trolli and Laffy Taffy) and Subway. Rather than a year-round online company store, some food and beverage companies will instead open online pop-up shops for occasional promotions and to sell seasonal merchandise.

Consumers will continue to seek unique and playful items from their favorite food brands. Expect to see more cross-promotions and customizable, limited edition promo products in 2021 and beyond. As Covid-19 vaccinated consumers become increasingly comfortable with in-person shopping, IRL swag giveaway events and pop-up shops selling food brand merchandise will also return in time.

If you would like assistance with selecting a line of promotional products that your customers will relish, contact us or fill out the form below.