The Strangest Fast Food Merchandise Ever Sold

Branded merchandise is a curious thing. Fast food is as much a part of popular culture as it is a part of the food scene, with each chain giving off certain vibes and attracting particular niches of the population. The same way you would show your appreciation or loyalty to a band or movie, you can also purchase items demonstrating your fealty or love for a particular fast food brand. It's a little odd to buy regular objects branded with the imagery or sensibility of a fast food company. By purchasing and displaying fast food merchandise, you're essentially paying a company to do their advertising and marketing for them.

But merchandise is also a creative, next-level form of marketing. The fast food world is very crowded, and to jockey for position and to earn visibility and viability, those companies will do just about anything to get an edge, even releasing bizarre fan-centered merchandise that's so weird and random that it will at least earn some attention from news outlets. Here are 14 times when fast food companies tried to attract attention and move some meals by marketing some very odd — if not completely inexplicable — clothing items, toys, and housewares.

Chipotle's 'Water' Cup Candle smelled like lemonade

It would seem that the marketing team at Chipotle is well aware of the age-old, commonplace fast food money-saving act — stealing, really — of asking for a free water cup and surreptitiously filling it up with lemonade. In August 2022, Chipotle put the "Water" Cup Candle up for sale on its Chipotle Goods online shop. Those quotation marks are pure sarcasm. Housed in what looks exactly like a small, complimentary Chipotle water cup are scented wax and a wick that when lit and burned smells exactly like lemonade.

Created to attract customers into its stores on August 20, 2022, which was also National Lemonade Day, Chipotle's tongue-in-cheek press release said the candle was inspired by those people who hit the self-serve soda foundations and accidentally choose lemonade (which costs money) over the free water they'd said they were after. The limited-time only and limited-supply offering would potentially make up for a lot of lemonade thefts — it cost $28.

Panera's BAGuette purse was sandwich-sized

New York Fashion Week happens twice a year. Each mid-February, major houses and designers unveil their spring and summer lines with shows and events in New York City. Piggybacking on the media attention for New York Fashion Week 2023, Panera introduced a luxury handbag. The bag was Panera's attempt to market itself as a fancier, more rarified fast food business by aligning itself in the public eye with the makers of expensive haute couture clothing. Resembling a very pricey purse or clutch designed and sold by the likes of Gucci, Hermés, or Coach, the Panera BAGuette called attention to the chain's sandwiches made on small, individually-sized loaves of French-style bread.

The pattern-embossed bag is 12 inches long, about the same size as Panera's newly introduced Toasted Baguettes, and comes with a "P" (for Panera) magnetic closure. The bag is available in just one color: the same light green used for all of Panera's official marketing business.

Dunkin' customers could run on Dunkin' running shoes

Dunkin', formerly known as Dunkin' Donuts, sells millions of doughnuts, cheese-laden breakfast sandwiches, and creamy, sugary coffee drinks each year. That's not the kind of fare commonly associated with physical fitness or athletic performance. That's a big reason why a 2018 business arrangement with athletic shoe manufacturer Saucony seems so unlikely and off-kilter. But Dunkin' is an institution in the city of Boston, as is the annual Boston marathon, so Saucony put the two icons together. In honor of the 2018 Boston Marathon, the shoemaker redesigned its Kinvara 9 running shoes in Dunkin' corporate colors of pink and orange. The heels of the shoes were even made to look like pink-frosted and sprinkled doughnuts.

Beating the words "Boston" and sprinkles in Dunkin' colors all over the footwear, the sneakers were available in limited quantities (and packed in a modified Dunkin'-branded doughnut box) and cost $110 on Saucony's website.

Track suits and sweatshirts celebrated Taco Bell sauce packets

Taco Bell drive-thru and counter employees always heap handfuls of sauce packets into customers' bags at no extra charge. Whether it's the Mild, Hot, or Fire! variety, the sauce adds just the slightest amount of extra flavor and heat to Taco Bell's populist fare. The Mexican-inspired chain has served up a few cult classics over the years, like the 7-Layer Burrito and the Mexican Pizza, but by launching a line of clothing emblazoned with artistic renderings of its sauce packets, Taco Bell apparently thinks that its most iconic and famous offering is the thing it gives out for free. Taco Bell's online clothing boutique sells a Sauce Packet Track Suit, a two-piece set of comfortable, baggy athleisure wear bearing images of the company's sauce packets. 

Available in sizes ranging from small to 2Xl, the Sauce Packet Track Suit retails for $70. For something less eye-popping, Taco Bell's store also sells a $47 zippered hooded sweatshirt with just one picture of each of the sauce packets printed on the back.

Oven mitts based on the Arby's Oven Mitt got recalled

Arby's markets its products more to adults than it does to children, bragging "We have the meats!" when it advertises its towering sandwiches packed with roast beef, chicken, and other proteins. That's counter to fast food competitors like McDonald's and Burger King, who historically advertise to kids with the fantastical McDonaldland characters and animated Kids Club, respectively. It was a little baffling in 2003 when Arby's tried to overcome a drop in sales by introducing an ad campaign built around an animated mascot but still geared toward grown-ups. Comedian Tom Arnold voided the affable Oven Mitt, a talking oven mitt — ostensibly to remind Arby's customers that all of their meats are lovingly roasted on site.

In 2004, Arby's provided its more than 3,400 locations with Oven Mitt oven mitts. For just $1.99, Arby's customers could get their own oven mitt made up to look like Oven Mitt. Unfortunately, it was more of a toy than a functional kitchen tool — Arby's issued a recall in November 2004, citing quality control issues.

Domino's made stain-resistant adult-size pajamas

One time-honored marketing method is to flatter customers — to sell them on the benefits promised by a product and to convince them that they're worth it. In late 2016, Domino's Pizza's United Kingdom division took the complete opposite approach, basically telling its most ardent fans and regular customers that the company thinks they're lazy, sloppy, pizza-snarfing slobs. According to AdWeek, Domino's in the U.K. hired fashion designer Charlotte Denn to create a special, branded garment to be worn while lazing about and eating pizza on New Year's Day, supposedly the company's busiest single day of the whole year. That item of clothing: a soft, one-piece casual garment, resembling a baby onesie, but in adult sizes. Made of smooth and soft velveteen, the loose-fitting garment came screen-printed with images of pepperoni pizza slices and effectively repelled stains. 

Even better: Domino's U.K. claimed the invention to be "the world's first 'wipeable' onesie," meaning whoever bought it could shovel Domino's pizzas into their mouths and not worry about getting any permanent grease marks on their clothes.

KFC's firelogs smelled like fried chicken

According to USA Today, Enviro-Log, a company that makes easy-burn wood composite fireplace logs, struck up an unlikely partnership with KFC. The result was a novelty item that became part of thousands of Americans' winter holiday celebrations for four straight years. The 11 Herbs & Spices Firelog burns like one of Enviro-Log's, providing hours of crackling flames in a fireplace. The difference: It purportedly smells exactly like KFC's signature chicken, flavored with the secret blend of seasonings concocted by the restaurant's founder, Col. Harland Sanders. "The smell of the Colonel's Original Recipe fried chicken is unmistakable," KFC said in a statement to media outlets in which it also called its $18.99 fire starter "the ultimate winter necessity."

Made completely with recycled materials and promising a burn of around three hours, KFC's special website selling the firelogs sold out completely in just a few hours after its launch in 2018. They proved so popular that KFC rolled out the product in 2019, 2020, and 2021 — when they became available at Walmart with a new and improved scent.

KFC's sunscreen smelled like fried chicken too

KFC's intentions with the launch of a piece of branded merchandise in 2016 were a little convoluted. It introduced KFC Extra Crispy Sunscreen. Intended to drive traffic to KFC stores by getting potential customers hungry for chicken, the sunblock wasn't edible, but it smelled like the chain's flagship fried chicken pieces. In encouraging the public to acquire its Extra Crispy sunscreen, and by extension, its Extra Crispy and Original Recipe fried chicken, KFC also raised awareness of the dangers of human beings becoming "extra crispy" by going out in the sun without proper protection. 

At the time of the Extra Crispy Sunscreen launch, KFC had hired actor George Hamilton to play its mascot and founder, Col. Harlan Sanders, in a series of commercials. By the 2010s, Hamilton was less known for his acting work than he was for rocking a deep sun-tan year-round. At any rate, the sunblock protected users from the potentially damaging effects of the sun while also allowing them to smell like the inside of a KFC bucket of chicken.

Burger King offered burger-scented cologne

For decades, Burger King has positioned itself as special and different from other international hamburger chains by touting its cooking method. Burger King burgers aren't fried or grilled but flame-broiled, which imparts a slight char and produces a distinctive smell, similar to that provided by a meat patty prepared on an outdoor grill or barbecue. That smoky and well-cooked seasoned beef is essentially what every Burger King outlet (and the area surrounding a Burger King outlet) smells like, and in 2015, Burger King's division in Japan found a way to bottle up that scent and sell it. 

Burger King Japan introduced a limited edition Flame-Grilled Fragrance, a perfume that reportedly smelled very similar to the aroma of a flame-grilled Whopper. The product became available in Burger King stores in Japan on April 1, 2015, leading to speculation that the goofy item was nothing more than an April Fool's Day corporate prank. It wasn't — it was very real, and the Flame-Grilled Fragrance sold for 5,000 yen. That was the equivalent of about $42, but it did come with a free Whopper sandwich.

Taco Bell's sells cookie cutters and stamps

Taco Bell doesn't do many desserts. It's all about savory and spicy entrees and side dishes, and the only sweet options on the menu are the Cinnamon Twists and Cinnabon Delights. With the introduction of some kitchen tools in February 2019, Taco Bell sent a signal to its customers that if they want something sugary after eating its various tacos, burritos, and Mexican-inspired menu items, they're going to have to go home and make it themselves.

The Taco Bell Cookie Stamp Set is sold in the restaurant company's online store. For $15, people who like Taco Bell's hard-shell tacos and Fire! sauce packets can make cookies at home that are roughly shaped like those two items. This means they can use the two included plastic cutters to form cookies that are half-moon or rectangular in shape, respectively. The set also includes a couple of taco and sauce stamps. When used correctly, they imprint the details of those Taco Bell items on the homemade cookies.

Whataburger sold high-end boots literally branded with its name

Whataburger is a Texas institution. The hamburger chain boasts more than 900 locations, of which more than three-quarters operate in the Lone Star State. The company's headquarters sits in San Antonio, and it embraces the Western and cowboy traditions, history, and identity of its home state. In October 2019, Whataburger added a quintessentially Texan item to Whatastore, its online merchandise outlet: cowboy boots.

These boots weren't a joke or a novelty item. Whataburger contracted with well-established bookmaker Justin Brand (in business since 1879) to design and build the footwear. Bearing the restaurant chain's winged W logo on the front of each boot, each pair takes 120 days and 105 distinct steps to come together. They're made with more than five square feet of leather and thousands of stitches — nearly 12,500 just in the Whataburger logo. As such, they didn't come cheap — both men's and women's designs (the toe fit and colors varied) retailed for a pricey $249.99 a pair. Those were much more expensive than Whataburger's previous forays into footwear like socks, running shoes, and slip-ons.

Pizza Hut made pizza boxes that doubled as DJ setups

Pizza is one of the most highly competitive sectors of the quick food industry. Customers can get a pizza at a number of different chains that are all pretty similar. One place where a company can give itself an edge over the other pizza purveyors is with a cool pizza box. In the summer of 2016, Pizza Hut's United Kingdom-based operations offered customers a box they couldn't get anywhere else — it featured a fully-functional DJ setup. Designed and built by U.K.-based print marketing company Novalia, the special DJ Pizza Hut boxes featured volume and pitch knobs, a mixer, and turntables with scratching sounds enabled. 

The Pizza Hut DJ set up connected to smartphones or laptops via a Bluetooth linkup and worked with Serato music-mixing software. All of those controls, features, and functions were made entirely out of ink embedded into the regular Pizza Hut cardboard pizza box. The boxes were awarded to a handful of lucky customers in the U.K.

Wendy's made a fantasy role-playing game to promote its fresh beef

Tabletop role-playing games are big business and a pop cultural phenomenon. Dungeons and Dragons is just one of many RPGs involving pen, paper, boards, and dice that plunge groups of players into richly realized fantastical worlds where they adopt characters and embark on grand and mystical quests. In 2019, Wendy's added to its extensive menu of burgers, fries, baked potatoes, and chili by offering customers its very own, very elaborate RPG. 

Played through a 100-page guidebook called "Feast of Legends," the game takes place "in a realm threatened by frozen beef," according to its TV commercial. Fighting on the side of the good guys — those who serve fresh beef — players select a warrior class and create a character inspired by different Wendy's menu items. The book and game include various maps, challenges, riddles, and a puzzle derived from Wendy's Value Meal.

Burger King in Israel sold adults-only combo meals

The kids meal is standard issue in fast food. Young customers receive child size portions of an entree, side, beverage, and almost invariably, some kind of small toy or game. In 2016, Burger King Israel extended the concept of the kids meal — meaning full meal and a free toy — to adults. And it meant "adult" in its most euphemistic sense. In order to attract couples to Burger King outlets across Israel on Valentine's Day 2016, the chain sold Adult Meals for one day only, and only during dinner hours. The very limited-time-only combo came in a black cardboard box, fully loaded with enough food and adult beverages for a couple — two Whoppers, two orders of fries, two beers, and one of several slightly risqué toys for grown-ups only. 

Burger King Israel required customers to be 18 years or older to purchase the Adult Meals. This makes sense, as they came with alcohol as well as a scalp massager, a feather duster, or a pink blindfold.