The pretzel burger is finally, mercifully back.
And Wendy's is hinting — though not promising — that it may be back for good.
After a six-month absence, Wendy's will bring back over the July 4th weekend both its wildly popular Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and its Pretzel Pub Chicken Sandwich. The success of Wendy's pretzel burger arguably set off 2013's pretzelmania trend in fast-food, from Sonic's pretzel dog to Dunkin's pretzel roast beef sandwich to DQ's pretzel Blizzard.
Above all else, pretzels — especially soft pretzels — sell. Proof: consumers inhaled more than 50 million pretzel sandwiches from Wendy's in 2013, driving 3% sales jumps in both the third and fourth quarters, says CEO Emil Brolick.
"The relaunch is a seminal event in our innovation history," says Brolick in a phone interview. But this go-around, he says coyly, Wendy's won't specifically say if the re-launch is a limited-time offering or a permanent menu addition. "Time will tell," he says.
Of course, customers will have serious influence, too. After Wendy's removed the pretzel sandwiches from its menu late last year, it was pounded on social media by pretzel-loving customers."We learned the passion and emotional connection that people have with Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger," says Brolick.
The burger, with a soft pretzel bun, is made with cheddar cheese, smoked bacon and honey mustard sauce, will be $4.99, about 30 cents more than last year. Also, notes Chief Marketing Officer Craig Bahner, consumers now will be able to request a pretzel bun with any other Wendy's sandwich for an additional 30 cents. "If you want a Dave's Hot 'N Juicy Double on a pretzel bun, we'll accommodate that," he says.
Beyond pretzel buns, the relaunch shows how quickly young, demanding consumers are changing fast food menus — particularly, sandwich buns and breads. "How long has it been since fast-food changed the white bun?" asks Elizabeth Sloan, a restaurant industry trends consultant. "There is a revolution going on in terms of sandwich carriers."
And beyond. Sloan points out that last year, 225 million Americans say they bought some kind of gourmet food or specialty food, and that number is growing.
For Wendy's, the intro also is a bid to boost sales during its already-busiest time of year and to regain its footing as an industry innovator.
Under its late founder Dave Thomas, Wendy's was regarded as a fast-food innovator with then-trend-setting offerings ranging from chili to baked potatoes to prepackaged salads.
The pretzel sandwiches may help change that. Within the industry's social-media buzz meter over the past several years, pretzel sandwiches arguably rank right up there with Taco Bell's game-changing Doritos Locos Tacos.
With the pretzel burger, Wendy's is chasing Millennials by aiming up, says Brolick. He says the chain is competing less with McDonald's and Burger King and increasingly with Chipotle and Panera Bread — which are preferred by Millennials.
That's also why Wendy's will launch a new version of its pretzel burger "Love Songs" ad campaign, which went viral last time around. This time, Morgan Smith, better known as "Red," the woman with the red hair who appears as a Wendy's booster in so many of its ads, will belt out a song professing her love for Wendy's pretzel burger.
Funniest, pretzel burger-worshiping line from her reinvented version of the song All By Myself: "When I was young, I never needed any bun."