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Wendy's hopes to spice up the chicken sandwich wars

The company has introduced a new Jalapeno Popper Chicken Sandwich in the middle of an innovation surge in the fast-food chicken business.
Wendy's Jalapeno chicken sandwich
Photo courtesy of Wendy's

As more companies push upgraded sandwiches dressed with little more than pickles and sauce, Wendy’s is hoping a toppings-heavy version—which seeks to mimic the jalapeno popper—can give it a leg up.

The Jalapeno Popper Chicken Sandwich, priced at $5.99, features sliced jalapenos, jalapeno cream cheese, bacon, shredded pepper jack cheese and sliced cheddar along with the chain’s upgraded spicy chicken filet on a bun.

The company is also introducing a salad alongside it that features these ingredients along with romaine and spring mix lettuce, diced tomatoes and crispy jalapeno and cheddar croutons, drizzled with a creamy jalapeno ranch dressing.

“We’re very, very, very excited about this,” John Li, vice president of culinary innovation at Wendy’s, said during a press event on Wednesday.

Wendy’s upgraded the chicken filet it uses for its Classic Chicken Sandwich last year and is using it in a sizable line of such sandwiches—such as the Pretzel Pub Chicken Sandwich and the Asiago Ranch Classic Chicken Sandwich.

The Jalapeno Popper sandwich adds to that list, which Wendy’s believes gives the company more options than many of its competitors that are jumping into the chicken-sandwich game. “We own the platform of chicken,” Li said.

Well over a dozen chains, including Wendy’s, have upgraded chicken sandwiches or introduced new chicken sandwiches completely over the past two years—all in a bid to rival Chick-fil-A, which in recent years has leapfrogged both Wendy’s and Burger King and is now the third-largest chain in the U.S.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2019 proved consumers’ appetite for the sandwiches, and chains have been jockeying for those customers ever since. McDonald’s is set to introduce its long-awaited Crispy Chicken Sandwich next week. Burger King said just Wednesday that it is taking a hand-breaded version of a chicken sandwich national this year. KFC is also bringing its new chicken sandwich to U.S. restaurants this month. Church’s Chicken, BurgerFi and even Boston Market have introduced new sandwiches lately.

Wendy’s hopes its Jalapeno Popper version will cater to consumers that are increasingly looking for spicier options—it’s notable that most of the new sandwiches have spicy versions, for instance. “Consumers want more spice flavor,” Li said.

But the Dublin, Ohio-based chain isn’t just focused on sandwiches, and thus it has the companion salad. “Everybody has given up on salads in our space,” Li said.  

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