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5 fast foods that made everyone excited during a dreadful 2020

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large
·4 min read
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It has been a year to forget about for the restaurant industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has totally uprooted the restaurant space in 2020. Indoor dining restrictions have been front and center as a means to fight back against the pandemic. Digital food ordering has become the norm for diners rather than the exception. In turn, the changing dynamics have led to numerous high-profile restaurant bankruptcies and the permanent closure of many mom and pop restaurants.

In total, the National Restaurant Association estimates 110,000 eateries and drinking establishments have shuttered over the 200 or so days since the pandemic first began to trigger dining restrictions.

Despite their formidable brands and balance sheets, the challenging backdrop has not been lost on the biggest fast-food chains around. They have largely avoided big bets on innovative new foods to drive sales, instead focusing on bolstering digital ordering operations and workplace safety. But the fast-food space has not been devoid of some headline-grabbing food launches (or relaunches), especially more recently.

Here are several that stood out to Yahoo Finance.

McDonald’s McRib

The McRib returned in December to much fanfare.
The McRib returned in December to much fanfare.

The 520-calorie McRib made its long-awaited return to McDonald’s menus on Dec. 2 for a limited-time. For the first time since 2012, McDonald’s released the BBQ sauce-filled, pickle heavy sandwich available nationwide.

We wouldn’t say the sandwich is innovative, more along the lines of a best friend coming back home to to say hello. After the year we have endured, we’ll take it.

Pizza Hut Pizza + Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat's sausage is now on a Pizza Hut pizza.
Beyond Meat's sausage is now on a Pizza Hut pizza.

Yum! Brands-owned Pizza Hut debuted the Beyond Pizza for a limited-time nationwide and in select spots in London in mid-November. It marked the first time a plant-based meat topped pizza was available nationwide.

The two new pizzas are the Beyond Italian Sausage (self explanatory) and the Great Beyond (veggie pizzas also topped with Beyond sausage crumbles).

“The first day [of sales] was great. We had an unbelievable response all across the country,” Pizza Hut interim president Kevin Hochman told Yahoo Finance Live on the pizza’s launch day.

Chipotle dabbles in brisket

Chipotle heats up the ole' smoker.
Chipotle heats up the ole' smoker.

On Nov. 30, taco-loving Chipotle entered the brisket game.

The company disclosed it’s testing smoked brisket at 64 restaurants throughout Cincinnati and part of Sacramento, Calif. Yahoo Finance definitely wasn’t surprised to see the news.

“It’s [the brisket] got a terrific taste profile and we’ve got this Chipotle barbecue sauce that goes on it. I think it’s spectacular. We got to put it into test and see how consumers react, but I’m pretty optimistic about that one as well,” Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol told Yahoo Finance about the internal brisket testing in an Aug. 28 interview.

Honorable mention here: Chipotle is also testing cauliflower rice.

Papa John’s Papadia

The Papadia has been a food fan favorite this year.
The Papadia has been a food fan favorite this year.

It almost feels like a lifetime ago, but Papa John’s debuted its Papadia back on Feb. 3. Think of the Papadia as if a pizza married a panini and they had a child.

The sandwich-like product is the brainchild of Papa John’s CEO Rob Lynch, who joined the company in August 2019 from Arby’s where he is credited with reviving the roast beef sandwich seller.

“Papadias continued to be a major component of the growth we're seeing in our ticket size,” Lynch told analysts on a Nov. 5 earnings call.

Wendy’s breakfast menu

Yahoo Finance checked out Wendy's breakfast sandwiches at its Dublin, OH headquarters pre-pandemic.
Yahoo Finance checked out Wendy's breakfast sandwiches at its Dublin, OH headquarters pre-pandemic.

File Wendy’s splashy breakfast debut as something we almost forgot about in the crazy year that has been 2020.

The company launched its long-awaited breakfast menu on March 2.

The two showstoppers on the menu are the Breakfast Baconator and the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit. Other items include peppery potato wedges and a cold brew coffee with a touch of Frosty mix inserted.

“It has been game-planned to death,” CEO Todd Penegor told Yahoo Finance in an interview at the company’s Dublin, Ohio, headquarters ahead of launch (this was pre-pandemic, of course).

Wendy’s breakfast business quickly reached 7% of its third-quarter sales, not too shabby considering most people aren’t out and about in the morning for work.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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