Wendy’s Opens Secret Test Kitchen To 10TV Cameras

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Central Ohio is home to the nation's second biggest burger chain - Wendy's. The company racked up $2.5 billion in revenue last year. Ever wonder how they decide what goes on the menu? There's a lot of science that goes into the food items you buy.

Deep inside the campus at Wendy's headquarters in Dublin stands a building where food dreams are born. Everything you would find in a Wendy’s restaurant is here, from bun toasters, to sandwich stations and fryers. You could call Wendy's Research and Development Center its labor and delivery room.
Food technicians are constantly pursuing new food combinations that could one day make it onto the menu. 10TV found them working on some new side dish and seasonal salad concepts, slicing and dicing veggies, tossing others in stainless steel bowls to coat with a honey, lemon and ginger dressing.  It can take six to nine months to come up with something worth putting into test market.

Wendy's uses roughly 112 people to test a product. Members of a test panel, Wendy’s employees and regular consumers - are served test items in a private booth connected to the research kitchen. Panel members type their answers onto a computer explaining what they liked about it, what they didn’t like about it, and how often they’d buy it. But even with all this research, some products have short lives.

Remember Wendy's pita sandwiches? Research and Development Director Shelley Thobe said, “Pitas were just too operationally complex. It was a great idea, but a little before it's time.

And then there was that Super Salad Bar.

“As customers were changing, health codes were changing, salad bars were just not the right thing to do anymore for Wendy's, so that's when we moved onto salads,” explained Thobe.

Wendy's does 70 percent of its business at the drive-thru window. To-go salads replaced the dine-in versions.

Product development is a constant journey of trial and error. And, when a winner comes along, it's not uncommon to look for a spin-off.

Industry analysts say Wendy's pretzel bacon cheeseburger became one of its hottest selling test items in 20 years. It spawned the pretzel pub chicken sandwich using the same pretzel bun that takes exactly fourteen seconds to toast.

By the time a new food item gets this far in development, every component has thoroughly scrutinized. From toaster to serving box, it takes about 40 seconds to assemble a pretzel pub chicken sandwich. That will be the standard for assembly time in every Wendy's restaurant across the chain.

The pretzel pub chicken sandwich is coming off the menu at Wendy's in November. But industry analysts see the success of that dark topped bun as something other restaurant chains are picking up. Still, the researchers who made it happen for Wendy's are clear-eyed about the ever-changing tastes of the consumer.

Teressa Johnson, Wendy’s Consumer Sensory Science Director said, “There's always a fine balance. We can be really creative and innovative but if we can't deliver it to the consumer it’s no good. Because the consumer is number one. We have to insure that we can make a product the consumer wants. Sometimes that’s pretty tricky.”

The research has yielded some reliable truths about the American fast food palate. Wendy's has found that women like salads and desserts the most. Kids prefer french fries and chicken nuggets. Men usually go for big, meaty burgers.