[Update: Wendy's rolled out the Natural Cut Fries across the U.S. on 11/10. Details here.]
Seeking to build the appeal of its sides as well as entrees, Wendy’s is testing Natural-Cut Fries in selected markets. Sprinkled with sea salt, the thick, skin-on potato strips are served with ketchup in either a mini-tub for dipping or traditional squeeze pack.
The natural-cuts are priced the same as regular fries-from 99 cents to $1.89-and operators contacted in test markets say the product has been enthusiastically received.
In the last quarter, Wendy’s has added the Bacon Deluxe cheeseburger and Spicy Chicken Nuggets and is readying the Fresh Wraps line of chicken wraps. What makes new french fries worth testing is their potential value in combo meals. So-called “bundled meals,” such as its Deluxe Value Meals, are going to be crucial components of all quick-service brands’ marketing programs this year because sides and beverages are profitable enough to counterbalance discounts on burgers and other entrees.
As operators learned in 2009, combos sell best when they contain can’t-get-elsewhere products and aren’t just discounted. The term Jack in the Box Chairman-CEO Linda Lang coined during a November analyst call was “differentiated value,” and it’s as good as any to describe 2010 menu marketing philosophy.
“It’s really hard to differentiate yourself with a $1 cheeseburger against what is out there in the marketplace, so what has worked well for us in the past and what we have planned in 2010 is more of the bundled meal,” Lang told analysts. “That’s a very compelling value; a higher price point obviously but still compelling price point for a meal that includes some products that are unique to Jack in the Box. So it’s differentiated value but still a very compelling price point.
Lang also noted a “continued falloff in sales of side items and carbonated beverages” during the fourth quarter, a trends others—especially CKE Restaurants CEO Andrew Puzder—pointed to throughout 2009 as a reason for depressed same-store sales. “We’re seeing customers order a $6 Thickburger and a glass of water,” Puzder lamented last July.
Beverages are important to ‘differentiated value,’ too, which is why most QSRs are looking for ways to stock almost as many beverage choices as convenience stores. At its Whopper Bar, Burger King is testing a “BK ‘N GO” cabinet with flavored waters, energy drinks and more. Carl’s Jr. in August added Monster Energy drinks and Krystal added its own branded energy drink, Blitz, in efforts to keep customers from leaving with just a sandwich a glass of water.
In keeping with its determination to avoid me-too products, Jack in the Box has said it will introduce a new core-product platform within the next few weeks. It could be the Quesadilla Grillers it tested last year or something totally different. But the odds are that it will be introduced with a combo-meal element.