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Revival Meeting: Chains Bank on Proven Menu Winners

The Whiplash Whopper is back at Burger King in Canada.

[Update: Red Robin is bringing back the Chili Chili Cheeseburger, inviting customers to vote on next revival.]
Given an economic environment that McDonald’s Corp. CEO Don Thompson recently called “uncertain and fragile,” chains are trying to minimize the uncertainty by bring back limited-time-offer burgers that customers already have shown they will buy. Chains are going back five years or even more to find once-popular foods worthy of return engagements rather than constantly gamble solely on totally new menu items.

Wendy's new Mozzarella Chicken Supreme was a hit in 2005.

The latest example is the Mozzarella Chicken Supreme sandwich (home-style chicken fillet, two slices of mozzarella and creamy Parmesan sauce) that Wendy’s has put on its menu. The chain made this move with more than usual confidence because this sandwich was such a hit back in 2005 that a website and Twitter handle were dedicated to lobbying for its return.

Then there’s the Whiplash Whopper (spicy mayo, crispy red bell pepper, and Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeňos), returning this week to Burger King stores in Canada. You may remember it from a 2010 promotion tied to the film “Iron Man II.” The movie’s gone; the burger’s back.

A&W this month teased its loyalists on Facebook with the promise that a much-loved burger from the past would return. It’s the Mushroom Onion Melt that A&W first offered more than five years ago.

McFeast returned to McDonald's in New Zealand.

McDonald’s is, of course, the king of nostalgia marketing. It takes the McRib off the menu, allows the craving and clamoring to grow and then brings it back. McRib’s latest return here is scheduled for early next month.

A&W was coy about the return of the Mushroom Onion Melt.

McDonald’s is playing the “everything old is new again” game all over the world as it fights to regain lost customer traffic and sales momentum. In New Zealand, for example, McDonald’s recently trumpeted the return of the McFeast, a quarter-pound burger with tomato, lettuce, cheese, zesty sauce and mayonnaise that has been on and off the menu for better than 20 years. (The McFeast comes off the menu this week as the Smokey BBQ Bandit burger and Scorcher Peri Peri chicken sandwich arrive, as previously reported).

In Switzerland this week, McDonald’s is bringing back the McZüri veal burger, a surprise hit there a year ago. Items don’t have to be that innovative to merit revival: the “Le Double Cheese” is back on McDonald’s menu in France for a limited time. You loved it once; won’t you—please—love it again?

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