Wendy's has big plans to return to its salad days.
On Tuesday, the burger chain will announce the March 17 national rollout of two new menu items to its salad lineup: an Asian Cashew Chicken Salad and a BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad. Also, Wendy's will announce plans to add more fresh veggies — cucumbers and red peppers — to its spiffed-up side salads,
Some 35 years ago, Wendy's was the first national fast-food chain to roll-out a salad bar — which it dropped in 1997, to focus on more drive-through-friendly portable salads. Wendy's lost its salad edge to savvy, slightly more upscale rivals such as Panera, which surpassed it in perceived quality. Now, Wendy's wants to once again be the king of salads.
The moves come at a time the $200 billion fast-food industry is in competitive turmoil. In a nation of increasingly health-obsessed consumers, something as simple as an extra salad option or two can sway millions of consumer choices. Salads have extra appeal to Millennials and females — key targets that fast-food giants are eager to attract.
"Our goal is to be the most important player in the salad market," says CEO Emil Brolick. "This is our stake in the ground." He declined to discuss Wendy's current salad sales numbers — or its goals — but he noted that today, Wendy's sells three times as much salad as it did during its salad bar heyday.
While salads are never a fast-food giant's best seller, they are crucial to consumer perception. "Even if consumers only purchase salads occasionally, their availability can make consumers feel better about the chain overall," says Jeff Davis, president of Sandelman & Associates, a restaurant research and consulting firm. "The heritage of the salad bar gave Wendy's a better-for-you appeal that lasts to this day."
Unlike most fast-food chains, Wendy's still freshly cuts the fruits and vegetables that goes into its salads on the premises. "This isn't just to do extra work" says Brolick. "Freshness is at the core of our heritage."
Even as Wendy's adds the new salads, it will drop two that have dwindling popularity — the BLT Cobb and the Baja Chili Salad. The key sales point for the new salads: nutritionals. The new salads will have about 25% fewer grams of fat, 19% less sodium and will be 40% lower in saturated fats than its current offerings. Calories are lower, too. The full-size Asian Cashew Chicken Salad, with dressing, is 380 calories.
Wendy's will continue to offer limited-time seasonal salads. And, Brolick says, because so much of its salad is sold at the drive-through, the chain is trying to develop a way to make its salads "more portable."