Fan Frenzy: The Rise of Merch in MULO Restaurants

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Merchandise (merch) has long been part of the music scene. You love the band…you see the live show…you buy the music, tee shirt, and hat on the way out of the venue.  But now, multi-location (MULO) brands are picking up on the beat and incorporating creative and varied branded merchandise into their offerings.

Whether consumers are fans of Taylor Swift or Taco Fries, they like to identify with their favorite names by sporting branded merch.

The entry of food brands into the merch world also benefits retailers. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) recently joined the apparel world with a summer promotion. In collaboration with eyewear brand Shady Rays, KFC offered a wide array of seasonal merch, including sunglasses, a beach towel, a koozie, a tumbler, and a bucket hat. dated regularly with new items. The limited-time offer runs until August 13th.

The benefits of merch are:

  • A new revenue stream. The margin on branded merch is estimated at about 20-30 percent
  • Brand engagement with the company’s site and social media pages and brand showcases on fans’ personal pages
  • An opportunity for consumers to connect with each other based on food tastes
  • Increased store traffic, especially during seasonal promotions or holiday season
  • Most importantly, branded merch creates mini “walking billboards” and opportunities for media exposure in trade and consumer press

The merch doesn’t just sit on the brand’s website “shelves.” It is sometimes sold to traditional retailers. For example, Taco Bell licensed its bodysuits and tee shirts to retailer Forever 21. It’s a win-win for food and fashion.

Other MULO brands that have gotten into the merch business are:

  • Dunkin’ has been in the merch business for at least five years.  Munchkin-flavored lip gloss, wrapping paper, sneakers, and even an electric guitar are some of the products the coffee/donut brand has offered fans.
  • Fans of Panera can now showcase their favorite soup and salad flavors on swimsuits. The brand also offered a branded “baguette bag” during New York Fashion Week.
  • Speaking of fashion, Chipotle’s merch store offers jewelry like earrings and necklaces.
  • Why should your puppy feel left out? Sonic’s seasonal clothing has both summer and winter holiday options, as well as dog apparel.
  • Some merch is tied to celebrities. For example, Megan Thee Stallion teamed up with  Popeyes on branded limited-edition Hottie Sauce.

Product brands are also capitalizing on fandom. Raving fans of Bailey’s will spend almost $2,000 on a “marshmallow” puffer jacket.

That’s a far cry from the traditional branded restaurant matchbook of years past!

But the takeaway is that creative fan memorabilia can have staying power long past a seasonal promotion!

When you see someone on the beach 50 years from now wearing their KFC Summer of 2023 bucket hat, you’ll know that branded merch in the MULO world is timeless.


Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.