KFC is debuting the first beverage offering exclusive to its restaurant locations with a new Mtn Dew flavor, according to details shared with Marketing Dive.
- Sweet Lightning, a peach and honey variant, is only the second exclusive beverage Mtn Dew has formulated for a restaurant. The first, the berry-and-lime Baja Blast, was brought to Taco Bell in 2004, where it quickly became a customer favorite. Taco Bell and KFC are both owned by Yum Brands.
To introduce Sweet Lightning to consumers, KFC is running an ad campaign focused on a new brand character named Sweet. In a teaser video, Sweet dresses up in gold-colored cowboy attire, with the spot ending on the tagline: "Something sweet is coming." A press release and promotional images indicate Sweet will eventually meet with KFC's mainstay brand mascot, Colonel Sanders, to strike a deal.
With the introduction of Sweet Lightning, KFC is taking a big page from the Taco Bell playbook, looking to capture the same type of fandom its sister brand accrued with Baja Blast. Baja Blast proved popular enough with consumers that some industry watchers suspected the soft drink, along with other menu items created with PepsiCo brands like Doritos, helped drive Taco Bell's same-store sales, a key indicator of franchise health. The limited availability of Baja Blast — the drink is no longer a Taco Bell exclusive — has also been leveraged as a promotional tool by Mtn Dew independently of the Mexican restaurant chain.
Replicating a cult success like Baja Blast can be difficult, however, and consumer perceptions of soda have shifted dramatically since 2004, with many younger demographics like millennials favoring less sweet and more natural beverage alternatives. KFC worked in partnership with the food and beverage innovation team at Mtn Dew to design a drink that would pair well with its signature 11 herbs and spices fried chicken, per the release. Sweet Lightning will also be a permanent staple at KFC moving forward, the company said, signaling confidence in the product.
One way KFC might be able to draw interest to the curiously flavored beverage is by tying the launch to its broader brand narrative around Colonel Sanders and the various iterations the mascot has taken over the years. KFC put Sanders back at the center of its marketing in 2015 and has since tapped a variety of celebrities and even computer-generated influencers to portray the character and tout new menu items.
KFC has recently scored some hits through the introduction of both limited-time offerings (LTOs) and permanent menu additions. Last April, the company introduced a well-received Crispy Colonel breaded chicken sandwich, ramping up competition with fast-food peers like Chick-fil-A and McDonald's. A fried chicken and waffles LTO that debuted in November quickly sold out, and was successful enough that KFC quickly resurrected the deal in March, as reported in Restaurant Business.