Wendy's unveils its first new breakfast item in two years
(CNN) -- Wendy's is expanding its breakfast menu for the first time since launching it nearly two years ago.
Beginning February 8, the chain is adding a Hot Honey Chicken Biscuit, a fried chicken cutlet that's drizzled with hot honey sauce infused with habanero pepper and served on a buttermilk biscuit for $3.19. It's the first expansion of Wendy's morning menu, which debuted in 2020, a few weeks before the pandemic began, that has been a success for the chain in a competitive daypart.
"This is our first introduction of flavor to the core breakfast lineup. We've been in breakfast for almost two years now, so it's time to build on the overall flavor offerings," Carl Loredo, Wendy's chief marketing officer, told CNN Business in an exclusive interview. He added that the combination of habanero pepper and sweet honey "brings a nice balance" that doesn't overpower the palate.
The new option is a spicier version of the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, which remains one of Wendy's most popular breakfast offerings, Loredo said, adding that there are no plans to remove any items.
"We're not taking anything away from consumers, but rather adding a little bit of spice to their life in the morning," he said. Other top-selling items include the Breakfast Baconator, Frosty-ccino and seasoned potato wedges.
Breakfast has been booming for Wendy's, especially after the sector's sales slumped in 2020 because of pandemic-driven disruptions to morning routines. The chain, which spent about $25 million in ads to promote its breakfast menu last year, said in its most recent earnings report that breakfast accounts for 7.5% of sales.
Visits to fast food restaurants for breakfast grew 10% for the 12-month period ending November 2021, according to research firm NDP Group. However, the fast food breakfast market hasn't fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and is down 2% from the same period in 2019. But consumers are spending 9% more compared to 2019, in part because of price increases.
"We're in a steady state for the next several months, perhaps with a bump up or down here and there, but we expect to lag pre-pandemic traffic levels through 2022 slightly," David Portalatin, NPD food industry adviser, said in a recent note about the breakfast market.
Wendy's is more optimistic, and expects morning meals to grow as much as 30% in 2022.
"It's amazing considering how hard the breakfast daypart has been hit. Coming into Covid-19 and through all the challenges to see the growth we've been able to see in breakfast," Loredo said. He added that the chain is seeing repeat customers return frequently for breakfast, but there's still a "big opportunity to let folks know that we've got it."
Another spicy sandwich
For lunch and dinner, Wendy's is adding a new Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich, a fried chicken breast with melted pepper jack cheese, topped with bacon and crispy pickles and drizzled with hot honey sauce. That also goes on sale February 8, and costs $5.99.
Wendy's, which has long offered spicy food, is the latest chain to keep expanding its flavor profile. Heightened appetite for spice is being sparked by palates in the United States that are "opening up to a little more heat and the complexities that people are enjoying," Loredo said.
Other chains in recent weeks have also been spicing up their selections. Through February 6, Arby's is selling the Diablo Dare sandwich that features five sources of spice, including a layer of ghost pepper jack cheese, fiery hot seasoning, fire-roasted jalapenos and a special BBQ sauce all placed on a red chipotle bun. It's so hot, it comes with a free vanilla milkshake.
Pizza Hut also started selling its spiciest pizza ever last week. Customers are craving increasingly spicy food, the pizza chain said, adding that those offerings bring in younger and more diverse customers.
For Wendy's, it's tweaking the trend slightly by mixing spice with sweet. "We're not just delivering atomic hot that you see in wings and other offerings where it's all about how impossibly hot you can make something," Loredo said. "Let's bring the spice and bring the sweet too, and those two things together give a really complex mouth feel and that's what consumers are looking for."
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