Industry News | February 11, 2016 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Lent Specialties Evolve Beyond the Fish Stick

Rubio's Smoky Oaxacan Shrimp are marinated in a blend of chipotle, anaheim, ancho, and guajillo chiles. image used with permission.

For a number of American consumers, fish is the word during the six-week period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Brands specializing in seafood see an uptick in sales while chains ranging from the burger and sandwich to chicken and ethnic categories add a special fish or shrimp item to the menu lineup.

Some consumers might be averse to such fare due to past Fish Friday and Lent diets consisting of flavorless fish sticks. Nevertheless, seafood offerings in the limited-service space continue to grow both in their variety and in their quality.

Species like pollock and cod, which were once hidden in anonymity as “white fish,” now draw in consumers with their proper names.

“A lot more companies are willing to put the name of the species on their product,” says Pat Shanahan, director of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers. “It’s a much better way to sell.”

Recently legislation was passed to change the market name from “Alaska pollock” to simply “pollock.” This alteration will ensure that consumers do not confuse species imported from other countries like Russia with domestically sourced pollock.

Just as seafood sourcing is becoming a more important purchasing point for consumers, so are healthier preparation styles. Fried fish and shrimp specials are still popular, but many brands are also adding items with a health halo. Captain D’s D-Lite Menu Meals feature a variety of seasonings rather than breading, while Rubio’s pan-sears its shrimp with a blend of spices. Quiznos puts a premium item—lobster—front and center on its Lent LTO game, and Back Yard Burger serves up a Grilled Salmon Burger.

At the same time, returning favorites like Popeyes’ Butterfly Shrimp Tackle Box and Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s Redhook Beer-Battered Cod Fish continue to push the standard set for the fried side.

It’s a far cry from the olden days of fish sticks.

  • Back Yard Burgers mixes up its patties with a Grilled Salmon Burger, as well as Salt and Vinegar Waffle Fries and a Key Lime Shake.
  • Captain D’s offers a new twist on its Home-Style Flounder and Tuscan Tilapia (read more here).
  • Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s bring back the Redhook Beer-Battered Cod Fish (read more about its debut last year).
  • Church’s Chicken takes to the sea with a new Lemon-Seasoned Butterfly Shrimp, Crispy Fish, and Hush Puppy Biscuit Bites.
  • Del Taco bolsters its seafood options with three new items featuring Beer Battered Shrimp and the return of the Beer Battered Fish Taco.
  • Freddy’s brings back its Fish Sandwich, Fish & Chips basket, and Mint n’ Oreo Concrete through March 30.
  • Long John Silver’s offers a special $5.99 Cod meal during Lent (read more here).
  • Newk’s LTO-turned-permanent-item Ahi Tuna Salad is now joined with a dill- and arugula-topped Ahi Tuna Sandwich, beginning February 15. The Mississippi-based brand has also been serving a crawfish-focused winter menu since January.
  • Popeyes brings back its fan favorite Butterfly Shrimp Tackle Box.
  • Quiznos serves a Lobster & Seafood Salad Sub and a Lobster & Seafood Fresh Salad.
  • Whataburger catches wild-caught Alaskan Pollock fish fillet with cornmeal breading, served on a toasted bun.
  • Rapid Fired Pizza offers a Shrimp Alfredo Pizza during Lent.
  • Rubio’s adds a Smoky Oaxacan Shrimp Two Taco Plate and Burrito to its menu for a limited time.

By Nicole Duncan

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