Innovating menus during a pandemic: Comfort drives creativity at Wendy’s
John Li, vice president of culinary for Wendy’s U.S., discusses what menu innovation has meant to Wendy’s during COVID-19. Wendy’s operates more than 5,800 corporately owned and franchise locations across the U.S., and almost 1,000 locations globally. The company’s digital business has more than doubled since 2019, with delivery representing the largest channel.
COVID-19 hit the restaurant industry hard. How did Wendy’s respond?
We listened, learned and responded to our guests, prioritizing their needs along with the health and safety needs of our team members. We made our service contactless, leveraged our drive-thru, optimized digital technology for easy ordering and delivery, and launched our new rewards program to give back to our customers.
We quickly recognized that people are looking for comfort and affordability — more than ever. We relied on our core menu of hamburgers, chicken, and Frosty treats to bring a sense of comfort and normalcy to people’s lives at an affordable price.
To spread a little joy at a time when the world could use a group hug, we did the next best thing; gave our customers a one-day GroupNug of four free chicken nuggets at the drive-thru. We also gave customers free Jr. Frosty treats at our pick-up windows.
In the spirit of goodwill, our operators across the globe gave back to local communities in many ways including using the Frosty cart, our mobile Frosty platform. Recently, we used it to say thank you to the doctors, nurses, and staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in our hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It was amazing to see that something as simple as a Frosty can turn someone’s day around.
Has COVID-19 changed Wendy’s menu innovation?
It reinforces that our foundational principles and food vision — Fast Food Done Right — continues to guide our business and ensures our core values reflect in everything we do. Recently, Wendy’s redefined what quality means to us today: food that is real, fresh, craveable, forward leaning, and affordable. This food vision continues to guide us through the challenges of the pandemic.
How did the fresh beef shortage affect Wendy’s?
We put our customers’ expectations first. Wendy’s hamburgers are made with fresh beef from North America. It’s never frozen and we weren’t about to stray away from that; it’s a foundation of our menu. Some Wendy’s locations were in short supply on fresh beef for a short time, but we were okay with that because it meant we weren’t compromising on our standards for the quality food our customers expect from Wendy’s.
What’s new to Wendy’s menu?
Our customers have been looking forward to new and comforting foods. In early March, we launched Wendy’s breakfast, featuring new items such as our Breakfast Baconator, made with fresh-cracked eggs and oven-baked bacon, and our Frosty-ccino. And we recently launched the new Pretzel Bacon Pub Cheeseburger with Muenster cheese, bacon, honey mustard, beer cheese sauce, crispy onions, and pickles on our pretzel bun. The craveability and comforting effect of the pretzel bun were our inspiration and we’ll continue to expand on this trend in the future.