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Wendy's dabbling with pretzel burger

5:39 AM, May 30, 2013   |    comments
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Wendy's has a twist on burgers that's not yet for sale, but it's already getting buzz as one of 2013's most innovative fast food offerings: a pretzel burger.

More specifically, the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger.

Whether this premium product rolls out this summer --- or next fall - is anyone's guess. Wendy's won't say - declining to discuss the pretzel burger until its national introduction. "We're not sharing details of this sandwich today," says spokesman Denny Lynch, in an e-mail. "It's not in any of our restaurants."

But new products are the life-blood of fast-food, and Wendy's, formerly the industry leader in product innovation, could regain its claim to that crown with a serious hit. This upcoming burger - made with a soft-pretzel-like roll - has some fast food experts fawning.

"This could be a very, very big deal," says Christopher Muller, professor of hospitality at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration. "I don't know why, but there's nothing else on the market quite like it." If it's a hit, he says, others are guaranteed to follow.

Pretzels are totally on-trend, notes Mark Brandau, senior editor at Nation's Restaurant News. The trend actually began at some casual dining restaurants and is working its way down to fast food, he says. Several years ago, Blimpies rolled out a line of subs made with pretzel bread. And throughout much of Europe - particularly Germany - pretzel rolls of all kinds are extremely popular, Muller says.

One research analyst, Mark Kalinowski, of Janney Capital Markets, is so hot on the product that in a research note May 24, he upgraded Wendy's stock to "buy" from neutral based on reports that - in test market - it was one of Wendy's top-selling limited-time offerings in decades.

For Wendy's, a return to a leadership role in new product roll-outs would be huge. For decades, Wendy's products - from burgers to salads - were mimicked by the competition before its new product engine seemed to stall under a cascade of new executives.

More recently, Wendy's seems to be focusing on premium bread as a way to separate itself from the competition. Earlier this year, the chain rolled out a Grilled Chicken Flatbread sandwich as a limited time offering. While the pretzel burger may initially be introduced as a limited-time offering, it's not unusual for fast-food chains to add these limited-time items to permanent menus if sales take off.

The pretzel burger, which was previously test marketed in the Miami area, will face one major headwind: value pricing. The burger is expected to be premium priced, but price-conscious fast-food consumers currently seem bent on lower-priced value items. Witness McDonald's recent decision to nix its line of Angus burgers.

Even then, Muller says, a well-made and well-marketed pretzel burger could do for Wendy's this year what the wildly-successful roll-out of the Doritos Locos Tacos did for Taco Bell last year. "Wendy's hasn't had a new product like this forever."

Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

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