Industry News | April 22, 2013 | QSR Exclusive Brief

At Chick-fil-A, Old Salads Just Don't Cut It

Chick-fil-A isn’t one to back down from a challenge—even one that’s self-imposed. That’s why, despite the fact that customers weren’t complaining about current salad offerings, the chicken chain decided to scrap its salad lineup in favor of three brand new options.

“Salads are a product where people expect change,” says David Farmer, Chick-fil-A’s vice president of strategy development. “They expect new flavors and interesting combinations, so we just felt like we were at a place where it was time to update all of our salads.

“And instead of making small changes,” he adds, “we just felt like it was appropriate to really replace the entire category.”

Beginning April 29, customers across the nation will be saying goodbye to options like the Chargrilled & Fruit Salad, the Chick-n Strips Salad, and the Southwest Chargrilled Salad.

In exchange, they’ll be saying hello to the Cobb Salad (featuring sliced Chick-fil-A Nuggets, baby greens and Romaine lettuce, shredded red cabbage and carrots, roasted corn kernels, shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, crumbled bacon, diced eggs, and grape tomatoes, with the option of crispy red bell peppers); the Asian Salad (including sliced nuggets, Romaine and baby greens, shredded red and green cabbage, carrots, Mandarin orange slices, and the option of Honey Thai Almonds and Chinese Garlic & Ginger Wontons); and the Market Salad (featuring grilled chicken breast, baby greens and Romaine lettuce, shredded red cabbage and carrots, crumbled blue cheese, red and green apples, strawberries, and blueberries).

“It’s not your father’s or your grandfather’s salad anymore,” Farmer says. “Or maybe I should say mother’s or grandmother’s.”

In addition, a new side salad—which includes Romaine lettuce, shredded red cabbage and carrots, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, and grape tomatoes, with the option of red bell peppers—serves as an alternative to the brand’s Waffle Fries in any combo meal.

The salads start at $6.79, offer at least two servings of fruit and vegetables, and range from 180–430 calories, without dressing.

Speaking of dressings, Chick-fil-A is introducing a trio of new—and more adventurous—options to pair with the enhanced salad lineup. These include Avocado Lime Ranch, Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette, and Honey Sesame.

Farmer says the upgraded salad options will help the brand connect with its choosy customers who are in a hurry.

“The choosy, we think, is addressed by some of the unique flavor profiles, the ingredients, the dressings we’re offering,” he says. “And then the hurry is our ability to really give them the salad that you would typically expect to get at a much more expensive meal … in 60 seconds.”

The new lineup also reiterates the brand’s premium placement in the fast-food category, says Mark Baldwin, senior consultant with Chick-fil-A’s public relations department.

“We feel like we’re on the upper end of the fast-food category, so our customers are looking for that quality factor,” he says. “At our restaurants, we don’t have the dollar menu, we don’t play the value games. Our customers hold us accountable and we love that. They expect premium ingredients and fresh product that they can’t get anywhere else.”

Chick-fil-A originally planned to unveil the salads next spring, but after successful test runs in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and Orlando, Florida, markets last fall, Farmer says the brand was ready to accelerate the rollout.

He adds that spring is the perfect time of the year to introduce a salad lineup. “The availability of good produce drives that a lot, as well as the fact that customers start to think about eating healthy,” he says. “I know a lot of folks are thinking bathing-suit season, as well, so they’re mindful of what they’re eating.”

To that end, the brand is also re-engineering its Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap, featuring grilled and sliced chicken breast, green leaf lettuce, shredded cabbage and carrots, and a blend of shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses rolled in a flax-bread wrap, all for 330 calories.

The healthful approach doesn’t end with these new and improved items; the brand is also rolling out calorie counts on menuboards nationwide.

“We genuinely do care about our customers’ well being,” Farmer says. “We want to make sure we’re not only providing healthy options, but we’re also giving them information that will enable them to make the right choices.”

Farmer says the new menuboards, which also feature new food photography and type fonts set on a white background, are simply an extension of moves Chick-fil-A has already taken in providing nutritional content (include in-store nutrition information and an online nutrition calculator). He also says the brand has been hoping to add calorie counts to the menu for quite some time.

“We’ve held up for a while, waiting to see what the requirements are going to be, because it’s not inexpensive to do this,” Farmer says. “But the guidelines have been slow to come out, and we finally said, ‘We can’t wait. We need to do this.’”

He adds that this is just another step in creating a greater sense of brand transparency. An additional step: in-store tours that allow guests to see what goes on behind the counter at their local Chick-fil-A.

Though some stores have been operating these 5–7-minute tours for up to two years, Farmer says the goal is to get every store participating.

“We found out that even the people who eat with us three or four times a week don’t know simple things like how much hand preparation goes into their food, such as hand-breading our chicken every single day to make the chicken sandwich or squeezing lemons to make the lemonade,” Baldwin says. “With all these different food-related stories, we thought, ‘You know what? Let’s show you the recipes.’”

But new products, menuboards, and tours aren’t all the brand is revealing this month. It’s also testing a new production process for the new salads in which restaurants will make fewer salads less often, rather than creating a bulk supply in the morning.

Farmer says this helps the brand alleviate waste, ensure product freshness, and smooth operations.

“We’ve sort of retooled the kitchen so that’s we’re making very small batches of salads all throughout the day. It’s not a one-and-done exercise,” he says. “But the kitchen is set up so that it’s not difficult to go back and make three more salads.”

By Mary Avant