Will Wendy's new Dave's Hot 'N Juicy cheeseburgers breathe new life into the struggling fast-food chain? Or will the "improved" burgers go the way of New Coke? As reported by the Associated Press, Wendy's holds less than 13 percent of the fast food market, barely trailing Burger King at 13.3 percent. Combined, the two chains don't come near McDonald's 49.5 percent stronghold.
The old-fashioned hamburger chain may have spent millions of dollars in research to improve its image, but Wendy's has five factors to overcome that could relegate Dave's Hot 'N Juicy to the history books.
The price is going up
Fancy names and marketing aside, the new Dave's Hot 'N Juicy burger is still a 4-ounce burger with cheese and a few other toppings. One Wendy's restaurant in Dublin, Ohio, was selling the new single last week for $3.49. Fast food fans who are price conscious can still get a quarter pounder with cheese at McDonald's for about $1 less.
Yes, the price of beef is going up everywhere and mega buyers such as Wendy's are not immune to the crunch. Had Wendy's increased its burger prices without announcing a two-year study to create a better burger, customers probably would have understood the increase. All the hype detracts from the fact all restaurants have had to increase prices.
Fast food means food fast
Someone sliding through the drive-thru on their lunch break wants their order quickly. Do the current Wendy's marketing executives remember the long-ago "Step Aside" commercial? McDonald's was derided for its habit of having customers pull forward and park while waiting for their order.
A thicker burger will take longer to cook. While the burger may now be a bit more juicy since the cooks aren't pressing on the burger eight times, it can slow the lines at the drive-thru since every burger is reported to be cooked fresh-to-order.
No, this burger isn't a healthy option
Touting the improvements of "thicker burger," "full fat mayonnaise" and "buttered toasted bun," it's no wonder Dave's Hot 'N Juicy contains 33 grams of fat.
People who go to a fast food restaurant are looking for speed and value and the health benefits (or lack thereof) aren't high on the list of wants. To get a thicker burger, Wendy's just isn't pressing it on the grill anymore. The burger might be more juicy but it's from the fat that hasn't been squeezed out. That less-expensive quarter pounder with cheese at McDonald's is cheaper on the calorie count: 26 grams of fat in 510 calories compared to 580 calories in Dave's Hot 'N Juicy single.
Don't forget about the fries
If the Yahoo! comments are a true indication, there are a lot of former Wendy's fans who haven't returned since it changed the fries. Diane said, "I won't go back. Their 'new' fries are just awful. Without meal, it's just not worth the trip. They also did away with oranges as a side. Some 'healthy' choices????"Regular customers aren't always a fan of change. Wendy's has already lost some long-time customers with the change to natural-cut fries with sea salt. Can they afford to alienate more?
Who is Wendy's really trying to compete with?
In far third place behind McDonald's, is Wendy's trying to increase its fast-food burger business? Or is it trying to compete with the fast-casual chains who have sprouted up, such as 5 Guys Burgers and Fries?
Wendy's, with its higher prices, will never be able to bring down the leader. The widely varied menu, poor customer service and institutional dining rooms keep it worlds apart from the fast-casual burger joints.
Debbie Henthorn loves to talk about food -- where it comes from, keeping it safe and a return to cooking in our own homes from scratch. She's an advocate for better school lunches, more nutritionally informed children and local food sources. Debbie has owned an Ohio-licensed home bakery for four years.