Wendy’s kicked off this summer by putting a spin on one of its most iconic items, the Frosty.
For the first time, the fast-food giant nationally rolled out a strawberry flavor, which will replace vanilla on menus for a limited time. Joining that launch is the return of the Summer Strawberry Chicken Salad and the new Sunburst Melon Lemonade.
Wendy’s recently held a virtual Culinary Spotlight event—featuring John Li, vice president of culinary innovation, and Brittney Hollinger, senior specialist of culinary innovation—showcasing the Strawberry Frosty, and other flavors that have been experimented with.
QSR attended the event and captured the highlights.
How are you rolling out this Frosty LTO to restaurants? Is it the same equipment, different equipment? Can you give a little insight there?
John Li—Operationally we put a lot of time and thought in making sure that whatever we design menu wise, we can actually execute in our restaurants day in and day out. In the case of both the Strawberry Chicken Salad and the Frosty, basically no new equipment needed, no capital expenditures. I would say maybe a tiny bit harder in terms of putting them together, but the reality is you don’t get the really good stuff unless you put a little bit of sweat and equity into it.
Why did you bring the Strawberry Frosty to the menu?
John Li—So this is something that I started three years ago, and it’s been in the making because we are sitting on a goldmine. Consumers love Frostys, and the number one flavor Frosty that they’ve been asking for, for years has been strawberry. And just this past year, we finally said, “You know, let’s do this.” There’s a lot of nostalgia and history around the chocolate and the vanilla, which has been around since the beginning. So go back to 1969. We started with chocolate and then Dave Thomas introduced vanilla not soon afterwards. We don’t want to mess with a good thing. So you don’t want to mess up the apple cart, but in this case we’ll call it strawberry cart. We said now’s the time. Consumers are clamoring for it. And finally we said, “You know what we need to do something that the guests and our fans have been asking for. Let’s test the waters with strawberry.”
We ended up creating something that uses real strawberry puree and it blends with our vanilla. It’s hard to describe, but it makes like the best possible combination that you would think of. I want a strawberry milkshake or do I want a strawberry sundae? Not sure which one I want. Maybe strawberry soft serve. The Frosty is like a combination of all those things together, and it creates a perfect combination. We love it. We wanted to make sure that consumers would love it. So we tested it. It did extremely well in Canada. So the folks north of the border, they loved it. Then we said let’s test it one more time. So we went into the Virginia market, then it did extremely well in Virginia, and we said, “OK, I think the signs are all pointing to let’s go national with this.”
This is the first time that the Strawberry Frosty is launching nationally, but a true fan will know there have been a couple of other flavors over the years. So John can you share a little bit more about what those flavors were?
John Li—Just recently it was Noah Gragson, who is a NASCAR race driver who came in with his team, and he built a Blue Raspberry Frosty. He made the kitchen a mess. Like anything you can throw into a blender, he threw into a blender, and landed on a blue raspberry, which was actually at Talladega. So this was this past spring. We’ve done pop ups in New Orleans. We had a foster banana. So that was only for about two or three days. That was loaded with a little bit of rum—it was very, very good, super delicious. There’s actually even a Pickle Frosty, believe it or not. so there was a Rick and Morty event that we did both in Vegas and we also had it in Los Angeles. You maybe want to go “ewww, a pickle,” but believe it or not, if you’re trying to create a Frosty that’s true to the characterization of Rick and Morty, and it’s this killer pickle sentient being. I don’t even know what it’s called, but if you watch the show, you know what I’m talking about—a Pickle Frosty kind of makes sense.
So we continue to try with different flavors, and it basically comes down to don’t mess with what makes the Frosty really good, which is best of a milkshake, best of soft serve, best of hard scoop ice cream—Dave Thomas’ Frosty . It’s served at a very specific temperature. So it’s between 19 and 21 degrees. The machines that we have, they’re specially built for Wendy’s. They’re only for Frostys. It’s very, very unique to Wendy’s, and we want to maintain that tradition and that history and what makes Frostys so special and unique.
Do you think the Pickle Frosty will ever return?
John Li—Whether it works nationally or not, that’s going to be a hard sell because it is so unique in terms of flavor profile. But honestly the first time I tried it, I did not want to like it, and I ended up liking it. There’s something about the salty sweet combination, and then you got the textural crunch. It has the possibility of going national. If I had to win my bets on it, I think it’s much better for another Rick and Morty promotional event.
Have you ever thought of a breakfast Strawberry Frosty-ccino?
John Li—We have not, but that’s probably next on the list. I think that’s a great idea for us. There’s actually a special store that we have here on High Street [in Columbus, Ohio], which is near the home of The Ohio State University, which I hate saying that because my wife went to Michigan, but I’ll say The Ohio State University. There’s a frosty that’s actually flavored with our cold brew, which is pretty delicious too.
Brittney, can you share a little bit more about what other strawberry-centric menu item is going to be on the menu?
Brittney Hollinger—We also have our fan favorite Summer Strawberry Chicken Salad that we’re really excited to bring back this year. This is all about the summer season. There’s nothing fresher or more indulgent than fresh strawberries, and we’re so excited to bring the fresh strawberries into our restaurants. They are grown in California, handpicked—just really good, high-quality strawberries. We are keeping the sizing, the ripeness top of mind. These are going to be better than what you’re going to get in the grocery store and just really make this salad super craveable and delicious. We’re super excited that we are one of the only [quick serves] now still making craft salads in our restaurants.
So this is something that we know our consumers keep coming back for and it’s because of these fresh high-quality ingredients. So our applewood smoked bacon—our bacon is cooked in our restaurants every day, roasted in the oven. It’s smoked with the wood from apple trees. Nobody does bacon like Wendy’s. We don’t cut corners. Do not microwave here. And then you’re going to get this delicious three cheese Italian blend that adds a nice top to the salad. The saltiness and texture, candied almonds, our champagne vinaigrette, because there’s a lot of strawberries and champagne, classic summer pairing. And of course, our signature—our all white meat grilled chicken. And we do our salad for you. So if you’re not feeling grilled chicken, we have our classic chicken and our spicy chicken for a little bit of a kick. We can add bacon, we can add the crispy onions. All of our salads are made for our consumers every day.
How did the Strawberry Frosty and Strawberry Chicken Salad lean into the overarching “Fast Food Done Right?”
John Li—This is like the ideal example because we’ve got these five pillars on how we design our food. The ingredients have to be as fresh as possible, and you can’t get any fresher than getting the strawberries in and using them at their peak in terms of the season. They have to real, so there’s no artificial going on here. We’re using real strawberries that we have to prepare in the restaurant every single day. It’s building recipes that are craveable. You do it in a way that is a little bit on trend, but not so scary that it’s not possible for everyone. And last, but not least, this has got to be affordable for everybody. It’s the mantra we have—the democratization of really good food. It should be available to everybody.
What addition was there to the lemonade lineup?
Brittney Hollinger—This summer we have our new Sunburst Melon Lemonade. It has all the classic fruit flavors of summer, so think watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, a little bit of kiwi. It’s light, it’s refreshing, it’s summer in a cup. It’s just really delicious and craveable, and it’s a great compliment for either the Strawberry Frosty or the Strawberry Chicken Salad.