Quick-service Restaurants Finding Success with Fresh-cut

With the introduction of its fresh fruit bowl and cup now virtually complete, Wendy’s Restaurants has taken fresh-cut fruit to a whole new level in the fast-food industry.

Bob Bertini, Wendy’s spokesperson, said that less than three weeks after the company’s fruit products were first introduced nationally, the company was using more than 750,000 pounds of fresh-cut fruit per week.

The bowls and cups feature fresh cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple chunks along with red seedless grapes. The entrée-sized fruit bowls come with a low-fat, strawberry-flavored yogurt for dipping. The suggested price for Wendy’s fruit bowl is $4.19; the cup price is $2.19.

“We’re giving our customers an easy, convenient way to add more fruit to their daily diet,” said Tom Mueller, president and chief operating officer, Wendy’s North America, in a recent news release.

The new menu choices help consumers follow a key recommendation of the recently released 2005 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommend that people consume two cups of fruit per day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet).

Helping Expand Customer Base

With fruits, in general, high in fiber and important sources of vitamins A and C, folate and potassium, the new entries are helping Wendy’s expand its customer base, according to Bertini.

In late December, Wendy’s introduced a Combo Choices menu whereby customers can substitute, at no additional charge, either a baked potato, small chili or one of two side salads for french-fries when ordering a combo meal.

Last year, the company also began giving parents the opportunity to switch a mandarin orange cup for french-fries when purchasing a Kids’ Meal for their children. In addition, 2 percent reduced fat white or 1 percent low-fat chocolate milk can be substituted for a soft drink. There is no additional charge for making these substitutions.

Both the milk – served in easy-to-hold, plastic bottles that appeal to children – and the mandarin oranges can be purchased a la carte.

Interesting enough, the Combo Choices menu has not deteriorated the company’s french-fry sales, according to Bertini. Fry sales continue to hold their own, while fresh fruit sales already are a major menu contributor along with Wendy’s Garden Sensations line of salads.

The pre-cut fruit comes in from 10 Del Monte Fresh distribution centers scattered across the U.S. and is delivered to individual restaurants an average of three times per week. Wendy’s has 5,933 restaurants in the U.S. and 384 in Canada; hence, roughly 6,300 are receiving pre-cut fruit each week.

The fruit bowls and cups are put together each morning in the kitchen area of each restaurant, or at other times during the day, if needed, according Bertini. The fruit arrives pre-cut and packaged separately, according to fruit type, with a shelf-life of approximately seven days. Most, however, moves through the system within a couple of days. Once mixed and packaged in cups or bowls, nothing is kept overnight. Everything is thrown away at the end of the day, and a fresh batch is prepared the next morning.

Wendy’s fruit products contain no food additives or preservatives.

“All of our research shows that consumers today are looking for bold flavors, textures, colors and taste in their fruit products,” Bertini explains. “Increasingly, they are looking for nutritious options, and fruit fills this bill perfectly.”

Wendy’s first introduced its fresh fruit campaign in late December. Virtual total distribution throughout restaurants in the U.S. and Canada was achieved in mid-February. A media campaign, to drum up interest, began in late February.

Research shows that fresh-cut fruit has become a $300 million business for the grocery trade and is growing by more than 15 percent per year, according to Del Monte and the International Fresh-cut Produce Association. However, it has been an area largely untapped by the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry.

Key Player in QSR Salad Market

Wendy’s was a prime mover in introducing the salad category into the QSR industry when it began using salad bars in 1979. As people’s lifestyles changed and they became more mobile, the restaurant chain followed with its “Fresh Salads To-Go” in 1992. Today, 60 to 70 percent of Wendy’s business is conducted through pick-up windows. Portability is very important.

The company’s Garden Sensations™ salad entrees were first introduced in 2002 and helped set a new benchmark in the use of premium salads in the fast-food industry. This line, designed to satisfy salad consumers who are seeking more taste excitement, achieved full availability throughout the Wendy’s restaurants in the U.S. and Canada in early February 2005.

Wendy’s Entrée Salads

Wendy’s Mandarin Chicken Salad™ ($3.99) a fresh bed of mixed greens, tender, marinated chicken and sweet Mandarin Oranges. Served with crispy rice noodles, sliced roasted almonds and an original Oriental Sesame dressing.

Chicken BLT Salad ($3.99) – crisp mixed greens, tender, marinated chicken topped with shredded cheddar cheese, grape tomatoes, hickory-smoked bacon, crunchy cucumbers, home-style garlic croutons and Honey Mustard dressing on the side.

Taco Supremo Salad ($3.99) – a fresh bed of mixed greens, Wendy’s special blend of rich and meaty chili, shredded cheddar, sliced tomatoes and red onions. Also included are a bag of taco chips, zesty salsa and sour cream.

Spring Mix Salad ($2.99) – crisp mixed greens, sliced cucumbers, shredded cheddar cheese, grape tomatoes, red onions and shredded carrots. A bag of honey-roasted pecans and Wendy’s House Vinaigrette are served on the side.

In addition to its Garden Sensations salad line, Wendy’s continues to offer its popular Caesar side salad with home-style garlic croutons and the traditional side salad as part of its Super Value Menu.

As its fruit products, Wendy’s salad offerings are all packaged in-store. In the case of salads, most ingredients are hand cut on site. The exception is the spring mixes used is some products, Bertini said.

Are there opportunities ahead for fresh-cut processors to cut and package Wendy’s salad line off-site? Not at the moment, according to Bertini. The current system is working and in place. There will continue to be a need for fresh-cut fruit products and various spring mixes, but, at least for the time being, that’s where the interest ends. 

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