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Instead of a spicy rub or a slice of artisanal cheese, Wendy’s latest chicken sandwich is getting attention for what it won’t have.
The Dublin-based chain is poised to begin testing antibiotic-free chicken in several cities as it tests both consumer response and its supply chain.
Wendy’s plans to test a new chicken sandwich in mid-August in seven markets, and antibiotic-free chicken in four of those seven — Orlando, Fla., Gainesville, Fla., Kansas City, Mo., and Austin, Texas.
Central Ohio won’t see the new chicken unless it goes nationwide. That move is pretty likely as long as there is enough antibiotic-free chicken available, analysts say.
Further details on Wendy’s plans were not forthcoming.
Still, analysts think it’s the right move to swim with other chains doing similar things. McDonalds, Chipotle and Chick-fil-A have all pledged to remove antibiotics from their chicken. Big producers including Tyson and Perdue also have announced a pivot away from using antibiotics unless medically necessary.
“On the list of bad words, antibiotic had definitely moved up,” said Darren Tristano, vice president at Technomic, a Chicago-based food-service analysis and consulting firm. “The overall trend is taking things (thought to be) harmful out of the supply chain. Consumers want this.”
“The time is ripe,” said Tim Powell, principal of Think Marketing, a Dublin-based food-service consultant. “Today’s consumer is far better-educated on where their food is coming from, and they have shown they will pay more for it.”
The new chicken will also be used in salads and other menu items featuring grilled chicken.
Wendy’s has been looking to tweak its menu lately.
Earlier this year, the chain tested a black bean veggie burger in Columbus and received a lot of attention for trying a nonmeat sandwich. There’s no word on whether that sandwich will join the chain’s menu permanently, but it’s part of a bigger strategy among quick-service chains to keep up with fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle.
They have to speak the same language to lure similar customers.
“You have to do things like this,” Tristano said. “You don’t want to be one of the last. You want to be one of the first.”