World Cup fry box? Fries with bacon? How chains are innovating fries.

While many fast food chains aren't adding creative meals to their menus, they are switching up things up with fries. McDonald's changed their fry box with World Cup designs, while Carl's Jr. added Bacon Ranch Fries

Ted S. Warren/AP/File
Ryan Peterson prepares french fries at a Dick's Drive-In restaurant in Seattle, April 17, 2014. Fast food chains everywhere are looking for new ways to make french fries more attractive at a low cost.

Quick-service chains have slowed the rate of major LTO introductions. Fewer new creative entrees are joining menus as chains seek to avoid adding new ingredients or complicating operations. So where’s the innovation? Fries.

With protein prices high, burger chains and others are looking at new ways to make french fries—a famously high-profit menu item that both consumers and operators love—more attractive without requiring a major investment by operators. McDonald’s, which badly needs to draw attention and customer traffic, this month has changed the look of its famous fry box for the first time. World Cup designs from around the world adorn the boxes.

In St. Louis, McDonald’s has been testing a version of the shaker fries it serves in many overseas markets. The St. Louis test involves small packets of seasoning—Garlic Parmesan, Spicy Buffalo and Zesty Ranch—that can be sprinkled on the fries in the fry box or shaken with fries in the bag. Burger King offers its own take on this idea—Chicken Shaker Fries—in Australia.

Seasoned fries certainly aren’t a new idea, but several chains that haven’t tried them before—such as McDonald’s—are considering them again. It’s an inexpensive way to make menu news.

Another major chain looking at the idea is KFC. In the UK, it is offering fries dusted with its Original Recipe seasoning. It’s the first time I can recall the chain putting its famously secret “11 herbs and spices” seasoning mix on something other than chicken.

Back Yard Burgers’ new Garlic Parmesan Waffle Fries are a triple threat: waffle-cut potatoes tossed in garlic-herb seasoning and topped with grated Parmesan. Jack in the Box went waffle-cut, too, but with Sweet Potato Fries earlier this year.

Carl’s Jr. earlier this month added Bacon Ranch Fries, topped with, yes, bacon and ranch dressing. And one of the stars of family-dining chain Eat’n Park’s new “Park After Dark” late-night menu are Cheese & Gravy Fries. These would qualify as Canada’s beloved poutine if they had cheese curds instead of cheese sauce. But sadly they don’t. The fries are covered in gravy, Cheddar cheese sauce and green onions; then topped with shredded Cheddar.

Don’t underestimate fries’ importance to a proper burger meal. Fry fans take them very seriously, as Shake Shack found this month when it switched from its previous crinkle-cut fries to straight, hand-cut, skin-on Russet potato fries. The line of social-media wailers lamenting the change was almost as long as the lines for service at every Shake Shack.

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