A Taste for Tie-Ins: Celebrity Partnerships Propel Menu Innovation

Posted in Trends on December 19, 2023

isabella-fischer-p6kMVnPJcco-unsplashFood and entertainment brands have a long history of feeding off each other, and the market continues to show an insatiable appetite for cross-promotions and tie-ins between them.

Over the past few years, fast casuals seem to have accelerated the pace of partnering with celebrities to introduce signature menu items that have proven to be extremely successful exercises in creative collaboration. 

In the 1990s, McDonald’s partnered with Michael Jordan on a slam-dunk signature meal that set the stage for collaborations with other sports and entertainment superstars. More recently, the burger juggernaut launched a succession of celebrity-branded limited-time offers, including meals named after renowned rap artist Travis Scott and Latin music sensation J. Blavin.

As explored in our previous posts, Back to Basics: A Second Helping of Tried and True Feeds the Bottom Line and Devouring Digital: Major Chains Feast on Innovative Promotions, the Travis Scott and J Blavin signature meals proved to be powerful draws in a multicultural marketplace. Touted as their personal favorites, the meals struck a chord among the music superstars’ enormous fan bases. The Travis Scott meal was so successful, it did what was once inconceivable: It caused the world’s largest burger chain to run out of quarter-pounders.1

McDonald’s followed the Scott and Blavin meals with a meal deal named after hip-hop diva SaWeeti and another bearing the name of the wildly popular K-Pop group BTS. As noted in our  6 Foodservice Industry Trends for 2024, these celebrity meals drove 10 million downloads on the brand’s app.

In another example of a major celebrity showing a personal connection to the brand, Mariah Carey was featured in a holiday campaign where she promoted a favorite menu item for each of the 12 days of Christmas.

This year, McDonald’s introduced its first-ever celebrity couple LTO, the Cardi B and Offset meal, just in time for Valentine’s Day. The combo meal deal from the hip-hop power couple featured both stars’ favorite McDonald’s meals. 

Fast Casuals Pick up the Pace of Star-Powered Partnerships 

It’s one of the many celebrity partnerships that have taken center stage as part of a surging trend of star-endorsed meals in the fast-casual segment. “Within the past year, it seems like the celebrity partnerships have cranked up a notch,” reported Nation’s Restaurant News, which cited “Krispy Kreme and Hailey Bieber, Ice Spice, Ben Affleck and Dunkin’, Reneé Rapp and Sweetgreen, and The Jonas Brothers and Friendly’s.”1

The Dunkin’ collab with TikTok superstar Charli D’Amelio is particularly noteworthy for its Gen Z-targeted launch of “The Charli” and “The Charli Cold Foam” cold brew specialty coffees. Dunkin’ downloads saw a 57% upswing the day “The Charli” was released.

The brand recently partnered with Ben Affleck and Gen Z rap star Ice Spice to introduce the Ice Spice Munchkins Drink. Like Dunkin’s popular doughnut  holes, Ice Spice’s fans are also known as Munchkins.

Meanwhile, the Friendly’s casual dining chain has partnered with the Jonas Brothers to launch custom sundaes in their names. Each of the three brothers has a sundae that reflects his personal mix of favorite flavors and ingredients. The “Burnin' Up” partnership (named after one of the bands’ biggest hits and timed for THE TOUR series of live shows) is steeped in the brothers’ deep connection to the brand.

As Kevin Jonas explained: “We’ve been hooked on Friendly’s since we were little. Friendly’s has always been a favorite stop of ours … a memorable place where we bonded as brothers over ice cream and delicious food. Fun fact: We decided on the band's name at our local Friendly’s back in 2005, while chowing down on Monster Mash sundaes. So, we’re beyond excited to have this opportunity to relive our childhoods and create our own signature Friendly’s creations!”4

Hungry for more scoop on culinary collabs, promotional partnerships and the inside track on snacking trends and solutions? Dig in to the valuable info and inspo on our Insights page, and be sure to stay ahead of the curve with our 6 Foodservice Industry Trends for 2024. Crave custom solutions for your foodservice operation? Contact us now.


1 Petre, Holly, “Why is every restaurant partnering with celebrities now?Nation’s Restaurant News, September 14, 2023

2 Kambhampaty, Anna, “The Era of the Celebrity Meal,” The New York Times, Dec. 8, 2021

3 Restaurant News, “Celebrity Endorsements: A Powerful Tool for Fast-Food Franchisors,” September 18, 2023

4 Nation’s Restaurant News, “Jonas Brothers partner with Friendly’s Restaurants for limited edition sundaes,” September 12, 2023

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