Wendy’s is testing a build-your-own sandwich program, a move that could nudge the company even closer to its goal of competing more with the fast-casual segment.

The trial launched at two restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, near Wendy’s headquarters. These units were also the first to be rebuilt with the company’s modern design.

“It’s an early [operational] test,” says Wendy’s spokesman Bob Bertini, who declined to give additional details. “We’re always looking at a variety of things, from menu offerings to equipment to technology to customer enhancement. Many of these approaches are changed [during testing] or never adopted.”

Ingredient selection and higher-quality food are among the reasons traffic growth at fast-casual restaurants continues to outpace other restaurant segments, according to The NPD Group research.

Wendy’s build-your-own-sandwich platform allows customers to select one, two, or three hamburger patties or grilled, home-style, or spicy chicken as their protein, then a regular bun, pretzel bun, or no bun at all. They then choose from among Asiago, American, or Cheddar cheese slices; Blue cheese crumbles; and Cheddar cheese sauce. Finally, there are seven sauces and seven toppings available, including lettuce, tomato, and red onion. Bacon is available for an upcharge. The single burger sandwich is about $4, while chicken is slightly higher.

Most of the ingredients are already on the regular menu. The pretzel bun and Cheddar cheese are part of Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger LTO that returned this year after major success last year.

Wendy’s new menu efforts and restaurant redesign are part of the brand transformation that CEO Emil Brolick has stressed since coming on board in 2011. Adding a build-your-own option “makes sense” for Wendy’s because it fits modern diners, says Mark Kalinowski, a restaurant analyst with investment firm Janney Montgomery Scott, which has a neutral rating on the company’s stock.

“You’re definitely seeing more consumers today want to be in control of what they’re ordering,” he says. That’s key to fast casual, but also occurring more in quick service, which is an indication that “fast food and fast casual will blend together over time.”

By Barney Wolf

Burgers, Consumer Trends, Fast Casual, Menu Innovations, News, Wendy's