Fast food executives around the country have become a bunch of Dominique Ansels with MBAs. They’re tapping the best “innovation” teams money can buy to mix “brand synergy” with bold new food combinations in pursuit of quality stoner food.
Today, this trend has brought us Mac ‘n Cheetos, Burger King’s deep-fried mozzarella-stick-like creation with a Cheeto crust that’s being tested at select locations ahead of a national roll out.
It’s $2.49 for a box of five, and the whole thing clocks in at 310 calories. It’s also served with ranch dressing. Here’s an exhaustive, positive review.
Why do this? Why not just mac ‘n cheese bites? As Bloomberg notes, a competitive fast food market is pushing brands to think, uh, outside the bun. Selling Oscar Mayer hot dogs got Burger King some notice back in February, but Mac ‘n Cheetos seem to be a more deliberate play for virality and media attention (hi).
Taco Bell has had the viral-stoner-food-mashup space to itself for a while now. It started the early 2010s, when product developers there sprayed cheesy dust on a taco shell with a paint gun. They wrought the Doritos Locos Taco, which led a sales turnaround and transformed the chain. Fast Company called it “disruptive.” These days, Taco Bell is still doing bold, challenging work — re-imagining the taco shell as a waffle, a biscuit and, most recently a piece of fried chicken.
So far, Burger King is the largest fast food chain to challenge Taco Bell’s food-mashup dominance. McDonald’s has stayed above the fray, making more conservative menu changes like adding mozzarella sticks and all-day breakfast.
There’s another layer to this corporate crossover. Cheetos is a Frito-Lay company, owned by Pepsico, which often partners with Taco Bell’s parent, Yum! Brands. But Burger King, like McDonalds, has a longstanding arrangement with Pepsi’s rival Coca-Cola. Burger King’s North American president told Bloomberg the chain won’t be serving Pepsi anytime soon, but more collaborations with Cheetos could be on the way.
That warning, along with whispers earlier this month of a “Whopperrito,” mean we could be in for a very long, very cheesy arms race indeed.