Unlike many fast-food chains, McDonald’s (MCD) – Get McDonald’s Corporation Report has a relatively limited lineup of limited-time-offers (LTOs). It has the Shamrock Shake, which comes back every year for Saint Patrick’s Day, and the McLobster, which it releases some years selectively in the northeast.
It also has the McRib, a legendary sandwich that gets released selectively every now and then when supplies of the pork that make up the “rib” part of the sandwich become available. People literally follow the McRib on social media so they can see where it can be found.
Aside from that, McDonald’s has rarely used recurring LTOs. Instead, the chain has tried one-time offers, and recently it has added celebrity tie-in meals, which are just regular menu items ordered the way various celebrities order them.
The chain does, however, have one special item that has become a national craze on the very few occasions it has been released. It’s an item people try to resell on eBay (technically not legal) that causes a mad rush when it’s brought back.
No McDonald’s product causes a stir quite like the elusive Szechuan Sauce. Launched in 1998 to promote the Disney (DIS) – Get Walt Disney Company Report movie Mulan, the sauce quickly disappeared from menus but not from people’s memories and obsessions.
From Mulan To Riots: The Szechuan Sauce History
For years since, internet forums would track the Szechuan Sauce in other countries, try to sell saved packages and discuss ways to recreate the vaguely Asian salty-and-sweet dipping sauce at home.
In 2017, characters on Cartoon Network’s “Rick and Morty” mentioned Szechaun Sauce on the show and, as a result, a petition asking people to bring back the sauce was signed by over 38,000 people.
McDonald’s took heed and, in 2017, brought the sauce back for a single-day promotion. But the fast food chain must have underestimated demand since the launch led to winding lines and, in some cases, even riots over a rapidly running-out product.
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“We did not anticipate the overnight crowds, the cross-state travel and the amazing curiosity, passion and energy fans showed,” McDonald’s said at the time.
The chain brought back 20 million packets of Szechuan Sauce to nationwide restaurants in 2018, but as that supply also ran out, kept it off the permanent menu.
How Can You Get The Elusive Szechuan Sauce?
The Szechuan Sauce is once again coming back — McDonald’s just announced that it would become available on its app from March 31 and until supplies run out.
It will come for free with a package of Chicken McNuggets or be available to order a la carte (but be capped at five to prevent those who want to buy it out and hawk it as, in one case, a package that expired in the 1990s sold for over $14,000 on eBay (EBAY) – Get eBay Inc. Report.)
“It’s only returned three other times in the past 24 years, and we’re excited for fans to get another taste of the elusive favorite for just a few days,” McDonald’s said in a statement.
Come To The App, Says McDonald’s:
While online having the Szechuan sauce online can be a way to avoid long lines and fights at physical locations, the launch is, above all, a way to drive customers to its app — something that every fast-food chain in the country is currently trying to do through various offers and promotions.
In large part due to its ubiquity, McDonald’s already dominates when it comes to app use. According to research from Apptopia, the Golden Arches saw 2.2 million people download its app in February. Starbucks (SBUX) – Get Starbucks Corporation Report, Domino’s (DPZ) – Get Domino’s Pizza, Inc. Report and Yum!Brands (YUM) – Get Yum! Brands, Inc. Report-owned Taco Bell were behind at a respective 910,000, 784,000 and 683,000 downloads.