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Wendy’s Rolls Wraps; Chili’s Tries Slow-Smoked BBQ

Wendy’s/Arby’s Corp. executives have labeled 2011 “a transition year” as they “explore strategic alternatives” for Arby’s (i.e. try to find a buyer for it). But it’s clear the big picture includes continuing to revamp the Wendy’s menu with new wraps, burgers, chicken and more.

The Fresh Wraps line of  tortilla wraps that Wendy’s tested in the U.S. during the fall of 2009 have turned up on the chain’s menu in Canada as elements of a new and controversial $1.89 Everyday Value Menu (at right) north of the border. While the original Fresh Wrap varieties were Baja Chicken and Smokehouse BBQ, the Wendy’s/Canada versions are BLT Fresh Wrap (bacon, lettuce, shredded cheese, tomato, ranch dressing; 340 calories), Spicy Chicken BLT Fresh Wrap (bacon, chicken and ranch dressing; 380 calories) and Pico Grilled Chicken Fresh Wrap (Cheddar and pepper-Jack cheese, grilled chicken breast; 280 calories).

The controversy is the obvious price difference between the 99¢ Everyday Value Menu promoted in the United States and the $1.89 price tag for the Fresh Wraps and other items on the Canadian value list. The Wendy’s/Canada Facebook page includes several indignant protests about the pricing dichotomy.

Meanwhile, Wendy’s CEO Roland Smith last week told analysts that the chain this week will roll out the Asiago Chicken Club sandwich that BurgerBusiness.com wrote about earlier this month. A fish-and-chips promotion follows for Lent in March.

Also on Wendy’s docket is a systemwide rollout of the thicker Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy Cheeseburger that the chain put into test in November. It’s expected to use Kaplan Thaler Group’s TV commercial featuring Wendy Thomas that helped make the test successful.

Wendy’s has been talking about adding breakfast for years now, and it moves closer to fruition with amazing slowness. Executives last week said a fourth test market—San Antonio—is being added and that the company hopes to offer its Fresh Made Breakfast menu in 1,000 stores by year-end. A new Wendy’s breakfast website is another small sign of progress.

Chili’s also is looking a new ways to expand its menu and brand. Smoked baby back ribs have been a long-time staple for the casual-dining chain but in nine units in Michigan and Ohio Chili’s is trying out a six new “Slow Smoked BBQ” dishes. 

The test was reported to investors last week by Keybanc Capital Markets restaurant analyst Brad Ludington, who says the menu includes a BBQ Brisket Burger, Big Mouth BBQ Burrito. BBQ Rolled Quesadillas, Brisket Sandwich, Smoked Wings and a BBQ Chicken & Shrimp Skillet. Prices vary, but the burger is being tested at $9.99.

This brings into sharper focus a report by Julie Jargon in the Wall Street Journal that Chili’s is testing “a new combination oven that replaces the skillet and the smoker” and can “smoke ribs and cook bacon at three times the current capacity.” Increased kitchen efficiency coupled with expanded menu options such as slow-smoked BBQ makes this a potent new tool for Chili’s.

◙ As we reported last week, Hardee’s this week officially introduces a $2.49 Hardee Breakfast Platter that should shake up the pricing structure for QSR breakfasts.

◙ Finally, Chinese New Year is Thursday, Feb. 3, when the Year of the Rabbit is ushered in. In Hong Kong, McDonald’s is celebrating not with rabbit but with two fish sandwiches—Golden Fish Supreme and Sakana Supreme—and the online message “We fish you a happy new year!” Right. There’s also one darned cute little kid commercial for a warm-hearted start to the new year.

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