Over the past several months, the U.S. fast food restaurant industry has made an effort to entice millennials by introducing limited-time offers, or LTOs, often focusing primarily on menu items that feature different types of fancier breads.
— Wendy's (@Wendys) August 11, 2014
This is perhaps the biggest sign yet of fast food’s new direction. As the industry’s primary audience gets older, restaurants had to figure out ways to grab the attention of millennials, an audience with major earnings potential who tend to focus on better-quality and higher-end items.
The Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger is the first such “millennial” item that a major U.S. fast food chain elected to keep permanently. Wendy’s introduced the burger in the summer of 2013 to huge success, with the company saying the burger helped lift its sales in both the second and third quarters of last year. The burger was so successful that it was kept as a limited-time item until November, far past its original end date.
Credit Wendy’s for finding a millennial-enticing item with staying power. It’s no small feat. No other major quick-service chain has struck gold thus far. In fact, the item previously most successful in this area might have been Burger King’s Satisfries, because the company elected to keep the item on the permanent menu at 2,500 locations. The remaining 67% of locations, however, took it off the menu because of poor sales.
Other current attempts to find a permanent “millennial” item include
• McDonald’s featuring white cheddar on two current promotional burgers: The $2 Jalapeno Double and the Bacon Clubhouse;
• Whataburger’s return of the Green Chile Double Burger; and
• Carl’s Jr.’s Texas BBQ Thickburger, featuring slow-smoked chopped beef brisket smothered in spicy mesquite BBQ sauce.
Maybe one of these will stick, maybe not. But Wendy’s is the first one to have a dart stick on its dartboard, and the company isn’t resting on its laurels. It’s once again offering chicken sandwiches on pretzel buns for a limited time, and it also just announced an LTO of a smoked Gouda chicken sandwich on a brioche bun.
Wendy’s may not be the biggest fast food chain — McDonald’s still has that distinction — but when it comes to enticing the next generation of customers, right now it’s ahead of the pack.
"Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger Harbinger of Fast Food to Come" originally published on The Menuism Dining Blog.