New York • In its latest push to establish itself as a purveyor of premium burgers, Wendy's is testing a pretzel bun.
The Dublin, Ohio-based chain has started selling a bacon cheeseburger in select locations made with a slightly heartier, pretzel like bun. A spokesman for Wendy's declined to confirm the tests or provide any details, such as its price or where it's being sold. But the "Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger" was being advertised as a limited-time offer at a Wendy's in Miami with others posting pictures and talking about it on the social media site Twitter.
Wendy's executives have already said they plan to use better breads in the year ahead as a relatively low-cost way to raise perceptions about the quality of its food. The reliance on bread comes amid rising costs for beef, which have pressured restaurant chains that are struggling to keep prices down to hold onto price-conscious diners. So Wendy's is hoping distinct breads can help justify premium prices for some burgers.
The focus on bread is part of Wendy's ongoing push to position itself on the higher end of the fast-food pecking order in terms of quality. As such, the chain is also working to revamp its restaurants with a modern look with causal seating areas more reminiscent of fast-casual chains such as Panera Bread Co.
Saul Sanchez, a 20 -year-old student, said he tried the pretzel bacon burger after seeing it advertised when he walked into a Wendy's in Coral Springs, Fla. He said it was better than he expected, with the roll being a little heartier than the typical Wendy's hamburger buns but still soft. Even though the beef patty seemed no different, he said the "pretzel roll made it a lot cooler."
"It's like something you'd see at an actual burger place, not a fast food restaurant," he said.
Wendy's executives discussed the possibility of the pretzel bun at an investor conference this summer, albeit on a "Pub Club Sandwich." Gerard Lewis, who heads innovation at the chain, said during the conference that the goal was to provide "five star quality breads at three-star pricing." He noted that Wendy's has own its own bakery, giving it more flexibility to make different kinds of bread.
Shelly Thobe, who leads hamburgers at Wendy's, said during the same presentation that breads and buns are important visual cues for customers who tend to "eat with their eyes." She said that the pretzel bun would let Wendy's offer something other chains don't have.
As another example of its work in bread, Lewis outlined the company's plans to use flatbreads with chicken.
"Grilled chicken on a hamburger bun is yesterday's news," he said. "We're going to explore flatbread as the carrier for grilled chicken."
Even as Wendy's pushes to reinvent itself, however, the value menus remain a staple for the chain and the broader fast-food industry. But in a nod to rising costs for ingredients, Wendy's recently did away with the "99-cent" menu in favor of a value menu called "Right Size Right Price" to give it more flexibility in offering foods at prices up to $2.
Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi