VANCOUVER — It may be pumpkin spice season, but in the latest move by restaurants to create social media buzzworthy concoctions, Tim Hortons is experimenting with a far more bizarre new latte flavour: Buffalo sauce.
The latte — available at only two Buffalo, N.Y., locations for a limited time — is made with a “bold Buffalo sauce flavour,” and finished off with “a dusting of zesty Buffalo seasoning” and a whipped topping. Blue cheese not included.
The idea to incorporate Buffalo sauce into its menu stemmed from noticing both the coffee-and-doughnut chain and the sauce were created in 1964, Tims said in a press release.
“I think that is part of the broader strategy to create products and items that will garner some of that social media excitement,” said Robert Carter, executive director of foodservice at NPD Group, a market research firm.
“(But) I don’t know if it’s, you know, to the point where they’re going, ‘Let’s just think of the most crazy outlandish thing.”’
In an environment where consumers’ wage growth is falling behind the pace of economic expansion, restaurant industry growth is fairly flat, said Carter.
That means chains are forced to differentiate themselves and steal customers from other companies in order to boost their traffic, he said. One way to do that is create buzzworthy food and beverage items that consumers, especially the important millennial demographic, will share on their social media profiles, Carter added.
In this vein, Tim Hortons has launched a series of zany products recently. Last Canada Day, some U.S. restaurants served Canada-inspired treats, including a poutine doughnut featuring cheese curds and gravy.
“We always enjoy having some fun with our guests by sharing innovative and unique products,” a Tim Hortons spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
They’re not alone in the practice. Coffee chain competitor Starbucks launched its Unicorn Frapuccino in April, capitalizing on millennials’ collective obsession with the single-horned creature. The fast-food industry has also seen chicken taco shells and burger buns, hot-dog stuffed pizza crusts and black- and red-bunned Whopper burgers, just to name a few.
As industry growth is expected to remain stagnant over the next few years, Carter anticipates major brands will continue the trend of serving up Instagram-worthy dishes.
Brands can no longer rely on traditional advertising, said Yann Cornil, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
With people watching less television, he said, brands must generate traction via word-of-mouth and social media.
Part of what’s helping attract people to this particular latte, Yann said, is it’s a global brand honing in on a distinct local flavour. Communities respond well to chains creating products based on their local identities, he said.
The strange combination of chicken-wing sauce and coffee also draws in sensation seekers, he said. These individuals may not even enjoy the taste, but enjoy the thrill of novel experiences. Typically, they’re younger people, Yann said, so part of Tim Hortons’s strategy may be to draw in a younger demographic.