, UK
Photo provided. /Meaningful Vision

Fast food chains adapt menus amidst decreasing demand

Chains continue to focus on meal deals and LTOs.

Meaningful Vision’s recent report from February 2024 analyses data from the past 12 months, focusing on the menu structures of the top 100 fast food, coffee shop and bakery chains in the UK.

Emerging menu trends

The average number of items comprising fast food menus has remained relatively stable over the last 12 months, hovering at around 200 products. The largest selection is offered by pizza delivery chains which typically present more than 320 items owing to the inclusion of a wide variety of crust types and sizes, while burger and chicken shops average around 160 items.

Interestingly, fast food menus in general have seen an increase in their assortment size, whilst coffee shop offerings have decreased in variety. However, whilst this stability holds for food items, the assortment of drinks on offer has grown by 8%, primarily driven by an increase in the number of cold beverages offered.

The strategy for rotating menu items differs across segments. On average, 20% of a typical fast-food menu is refreshed over the course of a year.

Coffee shops exhibit more changes in the menu during a year, sometimes completely overhauling their offerings seasonally. In contrast, other fast-food outlets generally offer a core selection which remains relatively unchanged over time, while menu rotation is focused on limited time offers (LTOs) and meal deal promotions.

Rotation of products featured on the food menu is usually higher than those of the drink’s menu, a feature of all segments including coffee shops.

New Offerings and menu restructuring

The distribution across price brackets of the typical menu assortment remained largely unchanged during the year with 45% of items offered in the £2-5 range, compared with 25% in the £5-10 bracket. The majority of new product launches are to be found in the higher price range, primarily due to the effects of price inflation which, despite a significant decrease from 17% in the middle of 2023 to 10% in February 2024, remains of particular concern to restaurants. Only 36% of new items fell into the £2-5 interval, while 44% were in the £5-10 bracket. 

Meal deals have emerged as the leading category among all new products, including seasonal limited-time offers and permanent year-round fixtures, closely followed by beverages. The popularity of sides, snacks, and salads appears to have declined slightly, in keeping with a decrease in their overall share of the menu. Conversely, meal deals and cold beverages, especially coffee varieties like frappes and iced coffees, constitute a significant number of new additions and the number of new products appearing in this category has grown by comparison with the previous year. 

Beverages are reclaiming lost ground in fast food restaurant menus after experiencing a 2% decrease last year. Primarily driven by a resurgence in cold drinks sales and sustained growth among coffee offerings, the share of beverages has already rebounded by 1.4% in 2024. 

Influence of LTOs grow

Limited Time Offers (LTOs) are increasing in prominence, with their share of the menu growing by 12% in the last year. Meal deals and cold drinks have seen the most significant growth in this regard, with most of the activity in these menu sectors focused on new LTOs.  

The categories with the highest proportion of LTOs are cookies and cakes (50%), bakery items (30%), and hot beverages (29%), while pizzas, snacks, and salads occupy the lower end of the spectrum, all with less than 10%.

These proportions remain largely unchanged in comparison with 2023. Meal Deals have witnessed a substantial increase in their importance with the number of available offers almost doubling. Savoury Snacks and Cold Drinks also demonstrated significant increases in the number of LTOs, whilst Hot Drinks and Burgers witnessed growth in LTOs of more than 30%.

According to Meaningful Vision’s data, Meal Deals now comprise 20% of all LTOs, followed by cold drinks with 18%. The recent growth in the importance of LTO’s is mainly attributable to Meal Deals however, with almost 50% of new offers falling into this category. 

The majority of LTOs fall within the £2 to £10 range. Important to note, that despite the roughly 13% price inflation rate in the sector for the year, the average price of LTOs has decreased by 5% in the same period as operators seek methods to provide and maintain value for money to customers. Notable too is the decreasing number of relatively expensive LTOs, those priced at over £10, whilst those in the £5-10 range have increased their share of the menu from 31% to 41%.

"Our analysis of trends within the menus of the UK’s top fast-food chains reveals operators are responding to consumer demand for better value in the face of increasing pressures on the public’s purse.  As consumer preferences evolve and economic challenges persist, the deployment of limited time offers, and meal deals highlights a key strategy employed by fast food outlets to attract and engage customers," Maria Vanifatova, the CEO of Meaningful Vision said

"The industry has swiftly and effectively responded to meet consumer needs, demonstrating agility and a willingness to respond to market signals. While prices have risen on average by 13% since this time last year, LTOs and Meal Deals are 5% cheaper this year and are playing a key role in maintaining consumer demand. We believe this trend will continue in the coming year as unsettled economic conditions in the wider economy remain."

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