DUBLIN, OHIO — Gluten-free buns, ghost pepper fries and grilled chicken caprese may appear on the menu at Wendy’s in the future. During the company’s annual investor day on Feb. 3, executives discussed culinary innovation at the fast-food chain.
“Today’s consumers are interested in eating food that fits with their lifestyle,” said Lori Estrada, vice-president of culinary development at Wendy’s. “Sometimes they are seeking things like higher protein; so we may have a grain salad like a quinoa or a power turkey wheat berry salad.
“Then for some consumers, gluten is of concern. But did you know that we already have 15 menu items on our menu today that are gluten-free? But we may offer things like a gluten-free bun at some point.”
The company tested a number of products last year, including a grilled chicken caprese sandwich on a focaccia roll and a jalapeño fresco chicken sandwich made with a spicy chicken fillet, ghost pepper sauce and fresh jalapeños.
“And if that’s not quite spicy enough for you, you can add on some ghost pepper fries to go with that,” Ms. Estrada said.
Wendy’s menu strategy taps into various consumer need states, Ms. Estrada said.
“So, when they’re interested in taste adventure, they may want to experience things like different proteins, something like a pulled pork sandwich or pulled pork fries, similar to something that we launched earlier this year,” she said. “Or they may want something like a beef brisket cheeseburger; now, that is indulgence.
“Then sometimes they may want something completely different, like an egg-topped hamburger; really delicious. On the other hand, there’s times when consumers may want something a little healthier, and they may want to opt for something like a meatless hamburger, something like a black bean burger made with like 10 different kinds of vegetables and black beans; really delicious as well.”
Ingredient quality is another important part of product development at the company.
“We cut our lettuce fresh every day for our salads,” Ms. Estrada said. “We actually wash lettuce, we cut it, we spin it dry, as you can see in some of the wonderful salads that we have here.
“We bring in fresh fruits and vegetables when they are at their height of freshness, when they are in season. So you see things like blackberries and strawberries or a blueberry lemon salad.”
For competitive reasons, executives declined to disclose which products would debut at Wendy’s restaurants this year, but the company noted consumer demand for protein and flavor adventure are driving culinary development at the chain.“This is a really great time to be in the food business,” Ms. Estrada said. “Consumers are really engaged in their food, and they appreciate the new Q.S.R. quality that Wendy's offers.”