DUBLIN, Ohio – When the Wendy’s Co. introduced its Jalapeño Fresco Spicy Chicken sandwich last year, the hamburger chain challenged consumers to try it.
“We said, ‘Look, this product is not for everyone; it’s just for you if you love spicy things,’” said Kurt Kane, chief concept and marketing officer for Wendy’s, during the company’s investor day on Feb. 9. “And so we actively told people it wasn’t for them.”
Wendy’s partnered with Facebook to market the limited-time menu item, and the social media company in a recent earnings call cited the program as “an example of cutting-edge marketing with the kind of partner that they like to partner with,” Kane said.
“It's just an example of how we like to bring the brand to life, and we’re going to continue to bring products to life this way and bring products like these to the market,” Kane said.
A menu platform that has become particularly successful for Wendy’s in the past year is topped fries, which Kane called “one of our least-kept but also best-kept secrets.” Wendy’s has offered Baconator fries, ghost pepper fries, pulled pork cheese fries and bacon fondue fries. The latter is topped with warm Swiss Gruyere cheese sauce and pieces of Applewood smoked bacon.
“And really all those are is just a simple indulgence for consumers,” Kane said. “They also are great check builders as well. So we saw significant check enhancement whenever somebody added one of these products to this experience as well. So we feel really good about what we’re learning on sides and how topped fries can continue to play a big role for us.”
To meet demand for healthier fare, Wendy’s also last year launched an improved grilled chicken sandwich, featuring marinated all-white meat grilled chicken breast, and is currently testing a black bean burger in multiple markets. Made with Southwest spices, grains and vegetables, the vegetarian patty is served with pepper jack cheese and parmesan ranch sauce on a multigrain bun featuring nine grains and seeds.
“The feedback has been really good,” Kane said. “And … we’ve positioned and marketed this product in that even though it doesn’t have the meat, it is absolutely definitely up to the standard of being called a Wendy’s burger.”
Salads represent another area of opportunity for Wendy’s. The company’s recent marketing efforts aim to change consumer perceptions about fast-food salads by touting the brand’s use of fresh ingredients and seasonal flavors. In Columbus, Ohio, the company is offering the Power Mediterranean Chicken salad, which includes 11 types of greens, hummus and quinoa.
“We saw our consumer metrics around consumer understanding that we have freshly prepared salads go up five points in just a matter of weeks,” Kane said. “And whenever they hear that fact, it continues to build that well-earned quality halo.”
Wendy’s most recent product launch highlights a new take on its classic cheeseburger, featuring a new bakery-style bun, the brand’s original, fuller-flavored mayonnaise, premium produce toppings and a foil wrap to retain the burger’s heat.
“Consumer response has been incredibly favorable,” Kane said. “In fact, they prefer this sandwich two-to-one over our previous iteration of this hamburger.”