As summer rolls on, some brands are finding inspiration for limited-time-offers (LTOs) in carnivals and county fairs. Starbucks, for example, added a Cotton Candy Frappuccino to its summer menu. Beyond just seasonality, the idea of a nostalgic menu, featuring dishes, flavors and ingredients anchored in less mired days, is resonating with US consumers.

Conjuring up the past validates partnerships with food brands already well-placed in consumers’ favorite food archives. Earlier this year, Taco Bell established a co-branding partnership with Cap’n Crunch launching Cap’n Crunch Delights. The website describes the treat as “warm, light pastries coated with fruit Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries cereal and filled with creamy, sweet milk icing.” A Taco Bell spokeswoman shares why the company was interested in partnering up: “[Cap’n Crunch is] a nostalgic throwback brand from when you were a kid. We feel like it will appeal to what we call ‘kid-ults,’ or the kid-adults out there.”

Craving Indulgence

For many consumers, candy indulgence is the pinnacle of nostalgia. As long as consumers crave indulgence, there will always be a place on the menu for popular candy brands. Sonic brought them forward via new slush flavors on its happy hour lineup for a summer 2015 LTO. Last year, the company had huge success with Nerds, so this year it added two more nostalgic candies: Jolly Ranchers and popping candy. Even ice cream, already a whimsical favorite, is in the throw-back business. Dave Fenner, executive chef at frozen-treat chain Carvel, says the ice cream flavors that consumers find appealing these days are cotton candy, fruity cereal flavors and bubble gum.

Evoking whimsy is a sure way to appeal to Baby Boomers who love and appreciate an old classic. Consumers in this generation typically have more money to spend compared to Millennials, the current sought-after darlings of the foodservice industry. In menu terms, the word classic might best depict nostalgia, and indeed, classic as a menu item claim grew 14% across commercial restaurant menus from 2014-15.

Old flavors make a comeback

Old-time flavors are also popular with men aged 35-54, as Mintel research shows they have the highest restaurant 30-day mean spend at both limited-service restaurants ($103) and full-service restaurants ($188). Brands could capitalize on interest with childhood flavored alcohols, like root beer. Indeed, spiked root beer is spreading across the country, middle aged men and Millennials alike, swilling it.

Some restaurants are basing their entire brand strategy on yesteryear, like Dave’s Cosmic Subs—a throwback to the ‘70s with all things psychedelic and rock ‘n roll, from the décor to the sandwich names. The first Top Round Roast Beef, a chef-driven fast food concept where customers enjoy sandwiches in a fun, nostalgic atmosphere, will open at the end of 2015. Talked about menu items include the housemade “Cheese Wizz,” milkshakes, malts, and floats.

Going back to the good old days is also appropriate for anniversary celebrations. At his flagship restaurant, Emeril’s New Orleans, Emeril celebrated 25 years in business this year with a series of nostalgic menus popular when the restaurant first opened. Fan-favorite menu items included Creole Corn Cakes and Cane Syrup and Pecan Bread Pudding.

There will always be a market for memories and the opportunity to sell an experience—new or old.

Paul Pendola is a Foodservice Industry Analyst and the manager of Menu Insights at Mintel. He has over thirty years of foodservice operations, business and client development and research experience.

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