Let’s face it: As much as we head to fast food places for their burgers and chicken sandwiches, we’re really here for the fries. Americans consume some 4.5 billion pounds – yes, billions with a “b” – of the side dish each year in all its hot, fatty and salty splendor. Comedian Jim Gaffigan dedicated whole routines with humble fries. “There is never enough!” did he declare.
Gaffigan spoke in particular of McDonald’s MCD,
fries, but other chains have also tried to make the menu item the key to their success. Namely: Wendy’s WEN,
just rethought its version, calling them “Hot & Crispy” fries. Sounds a bit odd as a marketing push, since fries should be hot and crisp by nature, right?
“Digital takeout orders increased 130% year over year and digital takeout orders 142%.“
But Wendy’s apparently doubles these aspects in its new recipe for a very good reason: Since the pandemic, fast food consumers are ordering take-out or delivery more than ever. Indeed, NPD Group market research reported that for the period ending March 2021, digital take-out orders increased by 130% over the previous year and digital delivery orders by 142%.
The problem is, fries don’t like to travel, creating a dilemma for restaurateurs. The very item Americans are looking for easily gets soft and soggy in no time (and being trapped in a takeout container doesn’t help). Perhaps the only thing harder than finding a fry that stays hot and crisp for minutes, says restaurant consultant Stephen Zagor, is “to find life elsewhere in the solar system.”
Wendy’s solution – at least in part: adding an “proprietary coating” to the potatoes before they’re fried, increasing their crisp potential, the chain told MarketWatch. Wendy’s is confident in its new version, so much so that John Li, the chain’s vice president of culinary innovation, said earlier this year, “It’s a new day for fries. Oh, and Wendy’s also offers its customers a satisfaction guarantee when it comes to the side dish.
After trying the fries twice, I didn’t feel the need to exercise this guarantee. But I wouldn’t say the fries really wowed my taste buds either.
To its credit, Wendy’s delivered a potato-flavored fry, even with the many additives that go into the article. Wendy’s website listings more than 10 ingredients, ranging from rice flour to something called disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate – the latter is apparently “to promote color retention”.
The fries also have a nice shape and texture – a little thicker than the classic McDonald’s version, but that arguably makes them a little more greedy. And I love that you see bits of potato skin on the fries – it never hurts to remind people of what they’re eating.
““I’m not sure Wendy really triumphed as planned.”“
But like almost all French fries, they still don’t stay hot and crispy that long – certainly not when I ordered them by delivery and they arrived about 30 minutes later. Notice they weren’t soggy, but they didn’t have that cool fryer appeal either. So, I don’t know if Wendy really triumphed as expected.
When asked about this, the chain reaffirmed its satisfaction guarantee by declaring: “If your fries are not hot and crisp when you receive them, we will replace them, no questions asked.
To be fair, McDonald’s fries also don’t pass the hot and crispy cook test at around 30 minutes. (I also ordered some from the chain.) But McDonald’s fries also have that incredible desire factor that makes them delicious even slightly beyond the half hour.
It’s like McDonald’s has mastered how to deliver these key taste elements – the fat and the salty – in a small piece of potato. Almost whole novels have been written on the subject (Some food writers have pointed out that an increase in sweetness was key to McDonald’s fries, although McDonald’s did not respond to any comments from MarketWatch).
Of course, Wendy’s has an edge over McDonald’s when it comes to potatoes. Namely, if you really just want a potato, Wendy’s will sell you one – in baked form. In my opinion, this has always been something that has given the chain a certain appeal – pair this potato with Wendy’s very solid chili and you have a most satisfying meal. And the plain potato is certainly a healthier option with 240 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 40 milligrams of sodium, compared to an average order of Wendy’s fries with its 350 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 620 mg of fat. sodium.
Still, you can’t quite dip a baked potato in Wendy’s Frosty, his signature ice cream ice cream creation. And people a lot love to dip their Wendy’s fries in their Wendy’s Frosty. I agree with the ketchup – the condiment adds the right touch of flavor no matter how hot and crispy the fries are.
The Fast Foodist is a new MarketWatch column that examines restaurant menu items through a business-critical and critical lens. Send suggestions for products that you think should be reviewed to [email protected].