Merch Madness: Food and Beverage Brands Up Their Merch Game

Merch Madness: Food and Beverage Brands Up Their Merch Game
small dog wearing a jupmer

Long gone are the days when food and beverage brand identities were limited to product selections on grocery store shelves. Today, brands engage in a feeding frenzy of product diversification, with many extending their market presence through medleys of merchandise. 

Food and beverage brand consumption has gone beyond eating and drinking to a diversity of merch-driven experiences and activations, from pop-up stores to seemingly unrelated product categories.

Datassential’s 2024 Food Trends report reveals the growing appetite for diversified brand experiences. Nearly 30% of consumers surveyed would visit a pop-up store — typically a source of brand extension merchandise — from their favorite food brand. That percentage jumps to 32% for millennials. 

Young Consumers Are Crazy About Branded Merch

The trend toward product diversification is especially strong among young consumers. Thirty-six percent of Gen Zers surveyed have purchased or have tried to purchase a special-edition, limited-time product from a food brand, and 21% have worn a food-branded clothing item, according to Datassential

As fashion psychologist Kate Nightingale put it: “Our clothing is a communication of who we are, our ideals and view of the world.” You are not only what you eat; you are what you wear — and when both come from the same brand, there’s a powerful marketing synergy."

“The biggest power we think you can have as a brand is becoming more synonymous with culture,” said Steve Kelly, former director of media and digital for KFC U.S., which has a revolving fashion line of limited-edition clothing and accessories. “Think about fried chicken — being bold enough to put ‘Fried Chicken USA’ on a sweatshirt and think people would see that and think about [your brand]. That’s powerful.”

Big Brands, Major Merch

From M&M’s x Adidas sneakers to entire clothing lines from Sweetgreen and Check-fil-A, brands have been busy making the most of merch.

Taco Bell serves up a prime example of the power of merch to maximize brand reach and awareness. The fast-casual Mexican food chain has become renowned for spicing up its image with everything from sauce-inspired luggage created in collaboration with the travel company CALPAK, to Taco Bell-branded holiday socks that quickly sold out. The Taco Shop’s Basics Collection capitalizes on the trend of cozy streetwear tailored for the youth market.

Panera has made a lot of bread with the launch of its wildly popular BAGuette Bag. Stylishly designed with a gold-tone clasp and the brand’s signature “P” in an eye-catching pattern, the bag is essentially an elongated green purse in the shape of a French bread loaf. Described by the brand as “the ultimate accessory designed for both the fashion aficionado and the foodie, crafted with a generous extra touch to sit at the intersection of style and function,” the BAGuette Bag sold out twice. Hunger for the bag has run so high that a few have been sold on eBay for $200 a piece, and one was listed for $3,290 or best offer.

Cheez-It launched its merch mega-site in 2021, and the digital shop has grown to offer products ranging from branded socks, beanies and hoodies to out-of-the-box specialty items like tech decals, nail polish and a Cheez-It fan chain. “The Cheez-It brand is always looking for new ways to connect with fans, and through this online shopping experience we’re offering consumers a new platform to enjoy everything they love about Cheez-It in a fresh, exciting way,” explained Jordan Narducci, Kellogg’s director of global direct to consumer e-commerce.

Miller Lite never fails to make a splash with an ever-expanding lineup of branded merchandise that ranges from apparel to barware to tailgate items and more. Last year the brand debuted the “Beercracker” — a nutcracker-inspired device designed to open beer cans and bottles. The brand’s Holiday Collection features a festive array of whimsical items, including “Beernaments” for decorating Christmas trees and the “Christmas Tree Keg Stand.” Miller Lite’s reintroduction of its classic Athletic Club apparel tapped into ’80s nostalgia to satisfy consumers’ thirst for the original line. “Nostalgia and vintage threads are currently on-trend making it a seamless transition to bring back such an iconic line,” said Kevin Wulff, CEO of Mitchell & Ness, the vintage sportswear purveyor the brand partnered with to bring back the collection.

Dunkin’ ran a Super Bowl commercial this year that starred Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Tom Brady as the DunKings — a wannabe boy band that crashes a Jennifer Lopez recording session to perform an original single while sporting gaudy tracksuits. The hilarious spot whet America’s appetite for the over-the-top outfits, which featured the brand’s signature neon pink and orange colorways and were emblazoned with the DunKings moniker. Listed on for $60 each, the jacket and pants quickly sold out. A $40 DunKings bucket hat in a choice of orange or pink also sold out in a hurry. The merch complemented a limited-edition menu that was also inspired by the star-studded ad.

Five Takeaways: Why Merch Is a Must for Next-Level Brand Growth

  1. It builds a lifestyle and community: In an age of social media amplification and cross-channel marketing, merch gives your brand a lifestyle dimension that binds fans together. It’s more than brand building; it’s community building.
  2. It provides an additional revenue stream: Many limited-edition products like the Miller Lite Beercracker and Panera BAGguette Bag quickly sell out and become sought-after items on sites like eBay. The hunger for merch is huge — and so is the profit potential.
  3. It’s great for gifting: Merch gives customers options for gift giving for the holidays and other occasions. Branded items can stand out from the blur of potential gifts and attract gift-givers looking for something unique and distinctive.
  4. It expands market reach: Clothing and accessories extend your brand beyond the product or service to appeal to both foodies and the fashion-conscious. These and other specialty items can reach consumers who may otherwise overlook your brand.
  5. It can serve as a fundraiser: Merch can make a difference through cause marketing initiatives. Panera, for example, donates a portion of net profits from its digital shop to the Panera Bread Foundation Inc., which funds services for underprivileged and at-risk children. (Check out our post on cause marketing to learn more about the power and pitfalls of food and beverage fundraising initiatives.)

In the end, merch is an essential extension of brand engagement — and food and beverage brands are increasingly stepping up to plate with exclusive collections of lifestyle apparel, accessories and novelty items. Feed the need for merch and you nourish the bottom line.

Stay on top of food and beverage brand and marketing trends with The Front Burner, our agency e-newsletter packed with info to keep you in the know. To satisfy your craving for culinary solutions, reach out to our food innovation consultancy, Creative Food Solutions.


Topics: Trends, Social Media, Marketing


The Front Burner is a bi-monthly newsletter addressing the latest in food and beverage trends. This in-depth resource helps you stay current in this fast-evolving industry.

recent posts