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Pickle Chemist Boosts Wendy's Flavor, but will it Boost the Company's Bottom Line?


Surprisingly, “Project Gold Hamburger” is not the next version of Android.

Have you eaten at Wendy's (NYSE: WEN) lately? I haven't. Between the questionable ingredients (why does the hamburger bun have more ingredients than the beef, cheese, bacon, and mayonnaise combined?), bland flavor, and lack of cleanliness (the last Wendy's I visited was anything but sanitary), I have lost all interest in the brand. This, and my newfound determination to avoid fast food, has kept me from returning to the restaurant.

Whether or not other consumers feel this way, I don't know, but Wendy's has started to recognize that it's time for a change. Over the past two years, the company has been trying to rebrand itself with new or altered menu items. According to USA Today, the company switched from white onions to red onions, chose crinkled pickles over plain after speaking to a so-called pickle chemist, and decided to keep its fat/lean ration intact.

“We have a lot of catching up to do in some areas,” Gerard Lewis, Wendy's head of new product development, told USA Today. “But after we launch this hamburger there will be folks who need to catch up to us.”

Those are some pretty confident words from a corporation that blew $275 million on Baja Fresh, only to run the business into the ground before handing it off to the guys that own Cinnabon.

As USA Today notes, Wendy's also screwed up by merging with Arby's and by offering lame breakfast products that aren't easy to eat on the go. And up until now, the restaurant's burger recipe had remained the same for more than 40 years.

Surprisingly, consumers didn't care, as they are still fans of the existing burger.

After a conducting a poll with more than 10,000 participants, Wendy's learned that people liked its food but felt that the brand had failed to keep up with the times. This prompted the ailing restaurant chain to travel the country to examine the characteristics of other burgers.

Dubbed “Project Gold Hamburger,” this journey included a measure of competing burgers' fatty flavor, salty flavor, and how well the bun stayed together. The results inspired Wendy's to change everything but the ketchup.

While this may be good for business long-term, the adjustment has come with a few hurdles. One involved a group of franchisees who were against the new toasters they'd be required to buy. Wendy's wants two in every restaurant, and according to USA Today, they retail for $5,000 to $6,000 each. The lawsuit is still pending.

That, however, isn't the only problem that franchisees have with the new toasters. Many are concerned about their safety, claiming that employees could burn or cut themselves while using the new equipment.

Early next year, Wendy's plans to make another change with the implementation of “Project Gold Chicken.” That may not be as tasty as an Android (NASDAQ: GOOG) ice cream sandwich, but anything should be better than Wendy's current chicken sandwich.

Or so I hope.

Follow me @LouisBedigian


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