Wendy’s is starting off the upcoming football season strong with a new offer that aims to replicate the game day experience. 

On Tuesday, the fast-food giant unveiled the launch of its Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger, made with poblano queso, crispy corn and tortilla strips, and a spicy chipotle sauce all wrapped in a toasted jalapeño cheddar bun. The build also comes with chicken sandwich and ghost pepper versions. Alongside that roll out are Queso Fries, which are made with the same poblano cheese sauce. 

“At Wendy’s, we are dedicated to creating exceptional, craveable experiences for our passionate fans, and our talented culinary team continues to deliver time and time again with our stacked Made to Crave roster,” U.S. CMO Lindsay Radkoski said in a statement. “The new Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger pays homage to two American tailgating classics—cheeseburgers and nachos—and will have fans leaving the other guys behind and making the transfer to Wendy’s this season.”

This introduction follows the earlier announcement of two new English Muffin Sandwiches, which feature a fresh-cracked egg, either oven-baked bacon or a grilled sausage patty, and melted American cheese. Then in July, Wendy’s tapped into consumer trends and released a new Frosty Cream Cold Brew lineup that’s available all day. 

Wendy’s recently held a virtual Culinary Spotlight event showcasing all the new items. John Li, Wendy’s vice president of culinary innovation, along with Jay Drumm, manager of culinary innovation, gave a behind-the-scenes look, and explained how they arrived on the menu. QSR attended the event and captured the highlights. 

Can you walk us through the build of the Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger?

Jay Drumm: We’re super excited about the Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger. And we’re really thinking that this is going to have everybody switching to team Wendy’s when it comes to this Made to Crave introduction. We’re going to start off with our jalapeño cheddar bun. So really has some fresh cheese and jalapeños baked right into the bun, a tinge of sweetness. There’s some corn in there. And we’ll take chipotle sauce—a little bit of smokiness, a little spice. And for freshness, lettuce and tomato. Now this is where it really starts to come together. On the bottom half, a slice of American cheese, our fresh never frozen beef, a quarter pound of that, and another slice of American cheese because we need that extra cheesy goodness. The real superstar here is poblano queso. So put a little bit of that on there. That adds a little bit of smokiness, a little bit of spice. And then for that extra texture that we all crave when it comes to nachos, some crispy corn and tortilla strips.

This is really exciting when you get all those textural components that you love with a nacho platter. But now you can have it all in one bite. So you’d be rooting on your team and enjoying this nacho platter all at the same time. I’m really excited for our fans to try it.

Can you give a little bit more on the additional cheesy fix with the new Queso Fries and just tell more about that hot and crispy pairing?

John Li: As soon as Jay finished doing the development on getting the Loaded Nacho —both on the chicken and the cheeseburger—worked out, we knew that we wanted to pair it up with a loaded and topped French fry. Because when you have the French fries that are still nearly 2 to 1 preference over the biggest rival that’s out there—we won’t name them, they’re like Voldemort to us—we wanted to somehow take advantage of the fact that we had this poblano cheese sauce that we started putting on everything. The best part about this kitchen is when we do play time, when you find an ingredient that you really like, we try to make it work really hard for us. So it was going on almost everything. And one of the things it worked best on were actually our hot and crispy French fries.

As you and the team launch new burgers, how important is it to have a coordinating fry offering?

John Li: I think especially when we start talking about the work that we’ve done and that Jay has been leading on Made to Crave because that is our one branded platform that Wendy’s has the ability to give to fans that want a little bit of flavor diversity, flavor variety, something that they’ve been craving. And it helps us deliver against our “Fast Food Done Right” principles, which I’ve talked about in many spotlights: real, fresh, craveable, forward-leaning, and doesn’t cost a fortune. Being craveable, fresh, and real, those are the big things that Jay builds into Made to Crave. And the absolute best complement—you could argue Frosty is one of the best complements—but the first priority complement and adjacent menu item that consumers choose is fries.

I know many consumers might complement the cheeseburger with these Queso Fries. Have you ever seen two where they’re pairing different orders so they can really mix and match flavors?

John Li: It goes back to what we do at Wendy’s best, which is, because everything’s made to order, if you want to do a little testing and be a little bit of a culinary arts chef yourself, have some fun with it, I know that you can get that same poblano cheese sauce as a side and it’s really good with our chicken nuggets.

Why did the team decide to bring these new flavors to the Wendy’s menu?

Jay Drumm: We spent quite a bit of time just trying to perfect the ingredients, the flavors. Two years just to get this where the sandwich is today. And I’m super happy with the team’s work to get it to this point because we wanted to deliver that nacho platter experience that you have when you’re watching the big game, but all in one bite. A lot of other competitors are looking around and doing some spice or they’re doing some texture, but nobody is doing it like Wendy’s does with this Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger and Chicken Sandwich as well as Ghost Pepper. Those both deliver a ton of spice and flavor and texture at the same time that we’re just not seeing in the [quick-service] space. That paired with our food vision, that is exactly how we’re developing all of our products with a real, fresh, craveable, affordable, and forward-leading mindset.

Can you tell us more about the breakfast items that have launched recently?

John Li: I’m glad we have a little time to talk about this new launch with the English muffin and then Frosty Cream Cold Brew, which have come out. Let’s start with the sandwich first because this is like the hero, I think. We know that there’s other sandwiches that are out there. So that’s why we wanted to make sure we took some time. If we’re going to build something that’s going to be an English muffin, we are going to “Wendy-ize” it. Here’s how. So it obviously starts with an English muffin. Most people probably don’t realize there’s a reason why most people don’t bake English muffins in their home kitchen because it is a complex process for a product that is so simple. It’s a very wet dough. You need special pans. You got to have the right heat and the right time associated with it and it took us 20-plus iterations to get to the right partner, the right bakery, and to get the right bun.

It is bigger than what you see with the competitors, which we will not name. In addition to that, it’s that savory signature butter. Sometimes when we do our development, you hit on something you’re like, “Oh that’s really good. That’s really good.” I mean, we thought it was going to be good, but then we put it on, and we’re like it amplifies and “umphs” up every single component in the sandwich. I don’t know if we necessarily designed it that way, but we realized, OK, we’ve fallen on something that’s pretty darn good.

And then Frosty Cream Cold Brew. So what we have here is you got to have cold brew, and real cold brew. Other people, we will not name, just take your hot coffee and they throw it in their cooler and let it cool off overnight and they call it iced coffee. Cold brew is what’s actually growing. It’s what consumers actually really want. It requires a very long steep time. This is 12 hours for us. It is 100 percent Arabica beans, which is the best bean you can buy. These are origin beans from Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Sumatra. You add our signature Frosty cream because it is all about the cream and frosty flavor. So for us, we developed a frosty cream specifically to go with our cold brew. And then for flavors, you can either get chocolate, you can get French vanilla, or you can get our caramel, which is the fastest-growing flavor.

Fast Food, Menu Innovations, Story, Wendy's