Our annual awards for the most absurd Valentine’s Day food promotions
Once again, Cupid makes his annual appearance in our lives. And for just one day (or, for another day after Mardi Gras, Lunar New Year, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Dia de los Muertos, and National Men Make Dinner Day—yep, first Thursday in November), every single food company on earth seems to have a special idea for how to celebrate with their product.
Last year, we were so fatigued by the relentless torrent of PR pitches proposing we write about date-night recipes, sexy tacos, and granola disguised as a romantic gift idea, we decided to celebrate the holiday by sending up—and honoring—the myriad ways food companies try to steal your heart by marketing directly to it.
With that, we bestow you all with a kiss.
Best overly complex storyline: The fastest way to a person’s heart is through their… nose? Maybe. This Valentine’s Day, KFC is offering its customers chicken-themed scratch ‘n’ sniff cards with the purchase of a “$10 Chicken Share,” which is pretty much just what it sounds like: For a tenner, you can get a bucket of fried chicken, wings, tenders, or popcorn nuggets to “share.” Plot hole: Why would you scratch and sniff a card to get a hit of that savory poultry scent when you could just smell the chicken that begat it? To KFC’s credit, the Valentine’s Day cards do come with corny branded punchlines, such as: “You make me feel so finger lickin’ good.” With KFC’s eau du poulet, that feeling can be yours for longer than the fried chicken lasts.
Best substitute for Tinder: Need human contact this Valentine’s Day? You can get a simulation of it by calling Wingstop at 1-800-WING-LUV. A deep, seductive, pre-recorded voice will pick up and tantalize you with your choice of Valentine’s Day tunes, tips, and “saucy” talk. Curious and not-at-all-lonely, I dialed the number and was courted by the hotline’s various sweet sayings. Personal favorite: “Let’s get lost tonight. You can be my atomic sauce tonight.” Kanye reference and wings? I’ll take it. The Texas-based chicken-wing franchise is promoting its hotline as a means to sell its “Wing Luv Kit,” which includes a heart-shaped box in which to package a gift of chicken wings for your loved one(s). Unfortunately, the themed product is now sold out. Phone-operated romance, however, is not. Have at it.
Best baked-good fraud: If you’re reading this on Tuesday, it’s not too late to pre-order a dozen heart-shaped bagels from America’s biggest bagel chain—and show your utter disrespect for both your loved ones and the bagel as a singularly circular food. Einstein Bros. Bagels has announced that its “fun” and “unique” and “perfect” heart-shaped bagels will be available in chocolate chip, cranberry, and plain flavors for Valentine’s Day. “Our bakers like to say all they knead is love,” said the company’s senior vice president of marketing, product, and research and development, Kerry Coyne, in a press release. Fact-check: Bagels need a lot more than just love, Einstein. For one thing, the best, chewiest, thickest-crusted bagels are traditionally boiled. The Bros. bagel chain doesn’t do that, said the Miami New Times in 2012. So, the question is, If you’re not going to put your heart into making a bagel properly, why bother shaping it into one? —Jessica Fu
Best aspirational kitchen item you can’t afford, no matter what time of year: Heart-shaped delights aren’t just for food! Cult kitchen favorite Le Creuset has a seasonal line of its classic cocotte casseroles, muffin tins, tart dishes, and fondue sets in a valentine-approved color scheme. Not that you asked, but the heart shape is believed by some to be the artistic representation of Silphium, a valuable plant that ancient Romans used as a contraceptive and for treatment of minor ailments like cough, fever, or indigestion. The heart shape took on its more metaphorical significance during the Middle Ages. However, the plant that inspired the love emblem is now extinct. So, there you have it. Love is dead. But at least you can still buy a Le Creuset.
Best market collusion: Don’t be charmed by Whole Foods’ recommendation that you “stay home and cozy up to your Valentine.” Spoiler: The grocery chain’s proposed “easy to pull off menu” is only easy if you “easily” buy into Amazon Prime services for your day-of grocery delivery. But before you dismiss the whole vision as a ploy to promote the delivery service, know this: Whole Foods also includes a very economically enticing deal on fresh roses—reserved just for Prime members, of course. Since V-Day’s big selling point is its call for romantic exceptionalism and banalities like grocery shopping just aren’t that exceptional, maybe Whole Foods can be forgiven for going the extra mile. It could even be considered… romantic.
Best effort: Less fascinating perhaps, than desperate holiday-themed food marketing? Good old-fashioned stats. According to the 2018 U.S. Food Market Outlook report from Packaged Facts, Valentine’s Day comes in third behind Easter and Christmas in terms of dollar sales for the chocolate industry. Halloween is fourth. So, eat your heart out, Hannukah? —Hillary Bonhomme