February 20, 2024 | Food Trends Foodservice Guides

What is an LTO? Leveraging Limited Time Offers in Foodservice

A limited-time offer (LTO) is a tactical strategy used across the foodservice industry to generate buzz, boost sales, and increase foot traffic. As predicted in our 2024 Fine Foods Industry Trends & Predictions Guide, LTOs will be highly beneficial in the coming year as menu sizes increase and labor shortages loom.

Keep reading to dive deeper into the strategy behind LTOs, explore the different types of limited-time promotions restaurants can leverage, learn how to build media buzz, and discover the Roland® products you should use to create your next LTO.

Why Try LTOs?

A Boost in Sales

Limited-time offers can be implemented for a number of reasons but are most commonly used to create a quick spike in sales. Datassential, a leading market research organization, has concluded that the average LTO can boost sales by up to 20%! Cycling through LTOs allows operators to create dynamic menus and increase foot traffic, with 81% of consumers reporting that they are more likely to visit an establishment during an LTO period. Limited-time offers can be implemented in a variety of ways, as discussed below, and are applicable across all levels of dining.

Culinary Exploration

LTOs also offer operators the chance to test new flavors, menu items, or products without long-term commitment. With 75% of consumers on the hunt for unique, global flavors, LTOs are an excellent way to gauge your audience’s preferences and test the waters without diving deep.

Customers Crave It

Limited-time offer popularity is on the rise; there has been a 64% increase in LTO menu offerings on restaurant menus since 2014. Consumers are enjoying this spike in limited-time deals, as 48% of customers are trying a new LTO every month!

Choosing Your LTO Approach | Understanding Your Stakeholders

You’ve made the wise decision to implement an LTO but now must choose the right approach. The key to creating a successful limited-time offer is understanding your audience and selecting a deal that is bound to resonate with your customers.

Know Your Options:

Below are just a few industry-friendly LTO approaches.

Returning (Seasonal) LTOs

Returning LTOs recur on a timely basis and give your audience something to look forward to every year, month, or season. Try leveraging seasonal flavors and ingredients, like spicy sriracha in the summer and warm quinoa bowls in the fall, or offer discounted deals, like half-priced iced beverages in the warm months.

Starbucks is a master of the recurring LTO. Their holiday menu returns yearly, with many consumers anticipating the seasonal drop. To keep guests returning year after year, the company launches newly branded cups, introduces exclusive holiday recipes, and brings back fan favorites from years prior.

via Placer.ai Blog

Nostalgic LTOs

Nostalgia is hot. Consumers are hungry for nostalgic flavors, and limited-time offers are the ideal way to incorporate them into your menu. In fact, 55% of consumers reported that they would be more likely to purchase an LTO promotion if it included nostalgic flavors. Nostalgic flavors that are currently trending include honey graham, peanut butter & jelly, and pickle.

Another way to approach nostalgic LTOs is by bringing back discontinued menu favorites. Taco Bell has been known to take this approach, resulting in major social buzz and spikes in sales. Their revival of Mexican pizza was catapulted by an overwhelming wave of fan demand, resulting in a 49.5% sales increase in the first week of its launch. Similarly, McDonald’s has been known to bring back nostalgic favorites like the Halloween Happy Meal and the adult Happy Meal which boosted year-over-year traffic by 37.6% during launch week.

via Change.org

Promotional LTOs - Tap Into Trends

Limited-time offers are not confined to new or returning menu items. Promotional LTOs offer guests special pricing on existing items. This could be a limited-time happy hour, combo deal, or buy one, get one offer.

You can also introduce promotional LTOs by tying the menu item to the latest trends. For example, “sweet treats” are sweeping social media, and are predicted to translate into a foodservice trend in the coming year. Your sweet treat LTO could combine small portions of your bestselling desserts bundled into one menu sampler. Datatssential reported in 2023 that dessert-centered LTOs were the second most popular behind non-alcoholic beverage LTOs.

Read more about No and Low ABV beverages in our What is a Mocktail Guide.

As discussed in our 2024 Trend Guide, the Mediterranean Diet is one of the most popular dietary lifestyles and continues to gain popularity. Consider adding a Mediterranean-style dish to your repertoire for a trendy and healthy LTO offering.

Read more on the Mediterranean Diet in our comprehensive guide, The Mediterranean Kitchen | A Guide to Mediterranean Cuisine.

Co-Branded LTOs

Celebrity Status

via @emmaAccess on X

Partnering with another brand or a public figure is a popular LTO approach ideal for attracting a new audience, especially younger generations. Choosing celebrity brand ambassadors who resonate with your audience and align with core company values will be instrumental in the success of these campaigns. LTO celebrity placements should be intentional, giving your consumers a reason to connect with the campaign.

Such campaigns originally rose in popularity with the McDonald’s launch of the Michael Jordan Slam Dunk Signature Meal, which paved the way for other fast-casual joints to invest in celebrity-branded LTOs. More recently, McDonald’s executed a number of successful co-branded LTO campaigns with celebs like Cardi B, Offset, BTS, and Travis Scott, which led the company to sell out of quarter pounders.

Curious about other notable campaigns? Dunkin Donuts’ collaboration with TikTok star Charli D’Amelio specifically targeted the Gen Z audience, a new frontier for the established coffee chain. Friendly’s, the family casual chain, recently partnered with the Jonas Brothers to launch new ice cream sundaes in their honor. The Jonas Brothers grew up frequenting Friendly’s, which added a personal connection between the band and the brand, making the LTO a natural fit. There are plenty of ways restaurant brands can leverage the power of influencers and celebrities to boost consumer interest and sales.

Brand to Brand

Co-branded LTOs are similar but feature a collaboration between two established brands rather than one brand and a celebrity. This type of LTO presents operators with a unique opportunity to join audiences and unite their customer bases. Collaborating with similar restaurants or brands creates a seamless campaign and a complementary experience for both audiences. Choose your partners wisely and consider the menu, ambiance, and audience to ensure the collaboration will be well received. However, this does not mean you have to play it safe. Some of the most successful campaigns come from unique brand crossovers and seemingly unexpected collaborations.

Looking for inspiration? Our favorite co-branded campaign comes from the fast casual salad bar, Just Salad. The company recently joined forces with Sesame Street to create their first kids’ menu. While this co-branding choice seems offbeat for Just Salad, the collaboration expanded the brand’s audience far beyond its average customer. Just Salads are mainly found in metropolitan cities, serving salads and wraps to the average adult. Now, their menu fosters a more inclusive setting for parents and their children to dine together.

via Just Salad

Build the Buzz | Effectively Market Your LTO

Choosing the right LTO approach is just one piece of the puzzle. Developing a strategic and effective marketing campaign for a limited-time offer will be instrumental in the success of the promotion.

Creating a comprehensive marketing plan inclusive of social campaigns, influencer partnerships, out-of-home media, email communications, and loyalty opportunities will all aid in generating buzz around your offer.

Strategize on Socials

Creating a social strategy involves distinguishing your chosen platforms, drafting post copy and images, outlining your paid promotion plans, selecting influencer partners, and mapping an effective way to monitor success.

Organic Buzz

Choosing the correct social platform on which to promote your LTO is crucial to campaign success. Think about your target audience – which platforms are they using most? For example, if you are planning to launch a new LTO and your typical restaurant audience is comprised of Millennials and Gen X, it would be best to start on Facebook and Instagram. If you are looking to attract Gen Z, you should focus your marketing efforts on Instagram and TikTok.

When drafting your social captions and written copy, make sure to use language that resonates with the platform format and with your targeted audience. Each platform has a unique algorithm, so it is important to be mindful of how you’re writing captions and using hashtags. The same goes for media style – whether you choose static images or video content, consider researching which style receives the most organic reach. Both your copy and content should effectively communicate what the LTO is, where customers can get it, and the duration of the promotion.

Pay to Play

Leveraging paid advertising on social media allows you to reach a much larger audience and get your promotion in front of potential new customers. Identify an advertising budget per platform and create a system for tracking campaign success. Be smart about how you target your audience as well. If you are only offering the LTO regionally, only focus on those markets.

Part of your paid advertising strategy can also include hiring influencers and public figures to post on their feed about your LTO. This is an effective way to reach their larger audiences without creating influencer-specific campaigns. See how McDonald’s leveraged Matt Hall’s following to spread word about the return of the McRib and their new limited-time McRib store locator.

Off the Social Grid

Marketing efforts for LTOs should extend far beyond social media. We suggest leveraging email marketing and SMS messaging to contact your subscribers directly. Use engaging subject lines and headers to grab your audience’s attention!

Loyalty, Loyalty

As predicted in our 2023 Trend Guide, loyalty programs have taken off within the foodservice industry. Entice your customers to try your LTO by offering double reward points with their purchase!

Print and Digital - A Perfect Mix

Having a mix of digital and out-of-home media buys will help promote your LTO from all angles. Consider advertising with digital banner ads on relevant websites, apps, and publications and double down with physical print advertisements on billboards, public transportation, and outdoor signs and flyers near your participating locations.

via behance.net

Have a big budget? Consider stadium advertising, airport terminal spots, and taxi ads. Although we live in a digital-forward world, print advertising can be extremely helpful in promoting restaurants. Get creative!

Packaging Makes Perfect

Making your LTO stand out is key to driving awareness. Consider developing a new label or package design for your LTO. Starbucks effectively executes this each year with their red holiday cups which are only available with a holiday LTO drink purchase.

Pro Tip: Think of ways to tie your packaging to your LTO approach. For example, if you are choosing a nostalgic LTO, consider creating limited-time packaging that reflects old company branding or logos for a retro feel!

Starbucks Holiday Cups via Popsuagr.com

Roland Foods' LTO-Worthy Pantry Items

Ready to create your LTO? Roland Foods has an extensive portfolio of over 900 unique and globally assorted products you can use to build your LTO. While we think every item has LTO potential, below are just a few of our favorites.

Truffle Oils: Truffle products are easily marketable as luxurious and sought after by many consumers. A little goes a long way with Roland® Truffle Oils – only a drizzle is needed to provide a deep truffle aroma and flavor.

LTO Suggestion: Truffle oil is a versatile product and can be used to create several LTO products. Consider adding truffle fries, truffle pasta, or a truffle dessert to your limited-time menu.

Discover our recipe for Truffle Crème Brulée

Sriracha Sauces: Hot sauces are trendy and flavorful – a dreamy combo for an LTO. While sriracha is traditionally used in Asian cuisine, this condiment is now commonly used in plenty of cuisine crossovers. Roland Foods offers three unique flavors of sriracha which can be used in tandem or separately to create a hot LTO.

Discover our Sriracha Sauce Selection

LTO Suggestion: Use all three Roland® Sriracha sauces (traditional, spicy, and green) to create the ultimate LTO app – a hot sauce sampler. Food flights and samplers are very trendy at the moment and offer guests an easy way to try a variety of flavors in one menu item. We suggest creating a sauce sampler to go along with an existing menu item such as fries or wings.

Chili Crisp and Crunch: Chili crunch products have been dominating the market for nearly three years and continue to be a favorite condiment. Roland® Spicy Chili Onion Crisp and new item, Roland® Hot Green Chili Crunch, can be used during the cooking process, or used as a topping to create a memorable menu addition.

LTO Suggestion: We suggest using these chili products as toppers to elevate existing dishes. Both products can be used in many cultural cuisines, and in apps, mains, or sides.

Discover our recipes for Bratwurst Peppers and Onions topped with Roland® Hot Green Chili Crunch and Mini Crab Cakes with Spicy Chili Onion Crisp Aioli.

Pickled Onions: Pickled onions are vibrant in flavor and appearance, making them an easy addition to several menu items. Roland® Pickled Red Onions are pre-pickled – ideal for time-saving applications.

LTO Suggestion: We suggest using Roland® Pickled Red Onions to create limited-time seasonal salads, or as a topper for specialty sandwiches.

Discover our recipe for Fish Tacos with Coleslaw and Pickled Onions

Organic Fine Tahini: Roland® Organic Fine Tahini comes in a convenient squeeze bottle with a silicone tip; simply shake it for easy blending and effortless application. This versatile condiment can be used in a variety of sweet, savory, traditional, modern, or vegan dishes for a delightful and creamy flavor.

LTO Suggestion: Tahini makes an excellent base for salad dressings. With spring around the corner, consider creating a seasonal salad with a Mediterranean twist.

For an enticing fusion dish, Discover our recipe for Italian Ramen Tantanmen Bowl

Balsamic Glaze: Roland Foods’ catalog features a robust assortment of high-quality balsamic glazes. From blood orange and fig to truffle and white balsamic, we have something for everyone. Each one unique in flavor and aroma, they offer a flavorful finish to apps, mains, sides, and even desserts!

Discover our full assortment of balsamic glaze products

LTO Suggestion: The LTO possibilities with flavored glazes are endless. They are fantastic additions to seasonal salads and sandwiches and can spice up a traditional caprese salad. Our favorite balsamic glaze application, ideal for LTO promotions, is balsamic glaze on ice cream.

Discover our recipe for Strawberry and Vanilla Sundae with Balsamic Glaze Drizzle

Roland Foods: Your LTO Partner

Limited-time offers have become crucial in the foodservice industry, providing a tactical approach to boost sales and increase foot traffic. As highlighted, the significance of LTOs is expected to grow, especially as menu sizes increase and staffing remains uncertain.

Whether through returning, nostalgic, promotional, or co-branded offers, operators have various options to tailor LTOs to audience preferences. Our best advice? Get creative and develop a solid plan for execution. From menu ideation to a robust marketing strategy, it’s important to analyze, strategize, and test (if possible) before officially launching your limited-time offer.

Looking for exciting ingredients to make your LTO shine? That’s where we come in. Roland Foods is ready to be your LTO partner. With a robust global portfolio of over 900 unique items, we are confident we can provide you with the products you need to craft your next successful LTO.

Ready to get started? Get in touch with our team today.

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