With an eye toward appealing to foodies, Wendy's is remaking its fries with Russett potatoes, leaving the skin on and sprinkling sea salt on top.
The fast-food chain has been changing its menu to focus on "real" ingredients to win more fans.
The first move in the strategy was a new line of salads such as Apple Pecan Chicken in the summer. Now, the fries, which first appear on Thursday and roll out over the next two weeks. This is the first major overhaul of the 41-year-old company's fries, although it has adjusted the recipe in the past.
The new fries are slightly slimmer than the old ones, and crispier because they're smaller. They will have more salt, a medium size fry goes from 350 milligrams to 500 milligrams, and calories add 10 to 420. The selling price will not change, ranging from 99 cents to about $2. The fries will still come to stores frozen.
Wendy's is planning a marketing push, including national television ads airing later this month, to highlight the changes.
"We want every ingredient to be a simple ingredient, to be one you can pronounce and one your grandmother would recognize in her pantry," said Chief Marketing Officer Ken Calwell, who declined to say what the Dublin, Ohio, company was spending on the effort.
People want more natural foods and they want to know where they come from, he said. Having the skin on is a way to remind people that fries come from potatoes, he said. Testing showed that some people think restaurant french fries are processed foods, he said. The old recipe used a blend of potatoes, not always Russett, but the fries were 100 percent potato.
Sea salt is being increasingly used in fine dining and in mainstream eating. Lay's, part of PepsiCo Inc., uses sea salt in a version of its natural potato chips.
The new fries are also cooked in a different blend of vegetable oils.
Wendy's worked with its suppliers to grow more Russett potatoes, so the new recipe will only cost a fraction more to produce.
Wendy's said its new fries have been selling well in five test markets, including New Orleans and Orlando, in the past eight to nine months, he said. Wendy's has changed its fry recipe over the years, by adjusting the blend of oil used to fry them, and the amount of time they go from preparation to order, among other things. But those changes aren't something that could be easily understood by diners, so they were never touted.
Fries are very important to restaurant chains because they're a staple, but they've never been a major part of Wendy's business, said Joscelyn MacKay, a securities analyst with Morningstar. The company has been known more for its beef, which is fresh, not frozen. Fries are more of an afterthought to Wendy's, so it's not likely this will drive new business.
"It's very consistent with their positioning but at the end of the day, it's going to be down to taste," she said.