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Qdoba spices up a staple

This summer, Denver-based Qdoba Mexican Grill introduced sweet heat to its menu with the debut of two mango sauces. Mango starred in salads in past LTOs, but now the 600-unit fast casual is firing up its best-selling burrito with a combination of spicy mango salsa and mango mojo sauce. According to trendspotting Chicago research firm Food Genius, mango appears on 18 percent of menus, up 1 percent from 2013. Here’s how they did it.

1. Doing the salsa

The burrito uses a twist on Qdoba’s Classic Mango Salsa. Surveys show guests value the sweetness, freshness and health of mangos, so the chain brings the salsa back every summer. It’s made daily with mango, bell pepper, onion, cucumber and cilantro. The labor saved by sourcing diced mango is worth the slight extra cost, says the chain.

2. Turning up the heat

For the spicy new burrito, Qdoba spiked the Classic Mango Salsa with chopped jalapeños and a hint of Tex-Mex  seasoning. “You need a lot to get the flavor to come through on a wrapped burrito. The tortilla, rice and beans tend to absorb flavors,” says John Cooke, vice president of menu strategy and innovation for Qdoba. The heat is a draw: Chicago research firm Technomic found that a majority of consumers (54 percent) prefer very spicy foods and sauces.

3. Moving on to mojo

To boost the intensity, Cooke and his team developed a mango mojo sauce. The base is a spicy and slightly sweet red chili sauce that’s combined with finely diced mango. He then layered on texture, adding crisp iceberg lettuce and crunchy tortilla strips to the burrito. “This has been our most talked about mango LTO,” says Cooke.

4. Steering clear of the tropics

Since mango is a tropical fruit, Cooke thought of going in that direction with some of the burrito ingredients. “We tried brushing the [chicken] with a mango barbecue sauce and using coconut rice in place of regular cooked rice for the filling,” he says. “But neither worked as well.”

What’s next

To compete in the Mexican QSR space, Qdoba is always looking at unique sauces to differentiate its core menu. “Queso is part of our heritage,” says Cooke. “For fall, we’re thinking of developing a queso variation, such as queso verde or queso Diablo, that can be used across the menu.”

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