When Arby’s launched its venison sandwich in its first test market of Nashville, Tennessee, it sold out in one day.
The quick-service brand debuted the menu item—made with thick-cut venison steak topped with crispy onions and a juniper berry sauce on a toasted roll—to coincide with the start of hunting season and connect with the market of more than 20 million hunters nationwide.
And for hunters who eat venison regularly, they’ve been pleased with the flavor they’re used to, while the sandwich has won over those who’ve never eaten it thanks to the meat’s tenderness, says Luke DeRouen, director of brand communications and content at Arby’s.
“We’re always looking for ways to separate Arby’s from the competition, and quality meats that you can’t get at other restaurants of our size is certainly a key way we are doing that. As far as other game meats go, we are exploring other options,” DeRouen says. “Venison and similar game meats are lean and full of flavor, so there’s definitely a chance guests could start seeing more of this type of protein as an option. And more than ever, consumers are willing to try something different, as long as it’s done the right way.
At New Orleans-based Dat Dog, exotic meats in creations such as alligator, duck, and crawfish sausages comprise 23 percent of all food sales.
"We want to start off with using traditional New Orleans style proteins," says Alex Ventura, the brand's executive chef. "After that, the sky's the limit as far as what other proteins we can use to put in our sausages. We like to play around and have fun with it."
Ventura says meats like alligator and crawfish are plentiful in New Orleans, but for other game he researches local wholesalers. As for what makes a good sausage, Ventura says he creates recipes through trial-and-error in the test kitchen. After he decides on the spice blends and protein combinations, Dat Dog sends the recipe off to its sausage maker to create in bulk. And as Dat Dog expands into new markets, Ventura says it will test even more new proteins.
"Our alligator sausage is one of our highest sellers. Our local guests expect these types of sausages, and our guests from outside of Greater New Orleans are willing to be adventurous and treat their taste buds to exciting new flavors," Ventura says. "Ultimately, they are pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy them."
Arby's venison sandwich will be offered at 17 restaurants overall throughout the rest of November, in areas around the country that the brand identified as heavy deer hunting areas. This includes locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Georgia.
"The Venison Sandwich sets us apart from the competition in the same way our Pork Belly Sandwich did—you simply can’t get anything like it anywhere else," DeRouen says.
By Alex Dixon