Food-Scented Candles Are Blowing Up Right Now

Scent marketing has become increasingly popular in recent years across a wide range of business sectors, with the general idea being, as Business News Daily notes, to drive sales and build brand loyalty through connection with a certain scent or aroma. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Retailing has been influential in this regard, as it showed that complex scents don't increase consumer spending, while simple scents do.

The power of scent in the restaurant industry has long been understood in the sense that enticing smells tend to attract diners. But, scent's connection with memory and emotion, a brain link detailed by The Harvard Gazette, offers interesting new possibilities for restaurants seeking to capitalize on the nostalgia and history associated with some of their signature menu items.

Food scented candles, for example, are having a moment right now. As Eater reports, several high-profile restaurants are now offering food-scented candles, including fast casual chain Shake Shack, and iconic New York City eateries Junior's and Katz's Delicatessen. In each case, the candles are designed to evoke the aroma of signature offerings: Junior's strawberry cheesecake, Katz's chocolate egg cream, and Shake Shack's burgers, French fries, and milkshakes.

The appeal of food-scented candles

Merchandising is a well-established part of the restaurant industry, per Eater. What's different about the food-scented candles is the sophisticated way they're being used to market their respective restaurants. Shake Shack's collaboration with fragrance brand Apotheke is a good example. On the surface, limited edition candles like "Shake and Fries" and "Burger in the Park" are meant to evoke the experience of dipping French fries into a milkshake, or the feeling of eating at Shake Shack's Madison Square Park location in New York City, per Food & Wine. On a deeper level, the $42 candles can also be seen as a memory trigger and cultural signifier framing the chain as an integral part of the New York City experience.

Similarly, the $45 strawberry cheesecake candle collab between Junior's and Literie is described on the latter's website as "a slice of New York." Which Junior's cheesecake is, of course. It has been enjoyed by generations of New Yorkers, with a history that dates back to 1950. Katz's Delicatessan goes back even further, to 1888. Katz's chocolate egg cream scented candle is priced at $25, and like Junior's candle, it works as both a simple souvenir and as a sense memory trigger evoking memories and nostalgia.

These restaurants aren't the first to offer food-scented candles, of course. As CNN noted, McDonald's released quarter pounder scented candles in 2020; and per USA Today, Dairy Queen released Blizzard scented candles the same year. But, it appears to be a growing trend.