Chick-fil-A’s core culinary philosophy is to keep things simple, says Allison Duncan, director of menu and packaging. Chicken is the hero, and the brand wants it to stay that way. However, the fast-food chain also recognizes there’s room for flavor varieties and different ingredients around that main event.

This desire to wow guests led to the new Maple Pepper Bacon Sandwich, scheduled to debut nationwide on June 10. It was first tested in Indianapolis and Lexington, Kentucky, last summer.

The sandwich features a grilled chicken filet, marinated in lemon herb, as its centerpiece. This filet, available year-round in other sandwich formats, is complemented by a maple brioche bun that has pockets of maple baked into it, enhancing the sandwich’s aroma and flavor without being overly sweet. The sandwich also includes two sweet heat pickles, a new addition for Chick-fil-A, offering a blend of sweet, sour, and spicy elements with a crunchy texture. The green leaf lettuce, pepper jack cheese (containing habanero and jalapeño), and candied bacon—coated in brown sugar and black pepper—add layers of flavor and gentle heat.

“I can remember as a very little girl someone giving me a piece of maple-shaped candy, maple leaf-shaped candy,” says chef Christy Cook. “And when I ate that, of course, I had no language for it, no idea of what was going on. But I knew that it was so different and complex compared to other sweet flavors I had experienced. So it’s just always lived in this place in my heart and mind. It’s maple and I love it.”

Cook emphasizes that the sandwich’s components are designed to work harmoniously together, creating a cohesive and enjoyable culinary experience for customers.

“So that’s what we were going for, something that really tasted amazing,” Cook says. “And with this particular project, we wanted to highlight our grilled chicken filet. So a lot of people forget that we offer this tender and juicy grilled filet. And we wanted to feature that in a way that customers had not experienced before. And then I personally wanted to dabble a little more in that space of not a lot of sweet, not a lot of heat, that space here between that and very, very sweet and very, very hot. It’s sort of an in-between gentle heat, approachable heat with a touch of sweetness.”

The Maple Pepper Bacon Sandwich will make its debut after around 18 months of work from Chick-fil-A’s culinary staff.

The Peach Milkshake is returning for a 15th year.

The limited-time sandwich will be joined on the menu by the Peach Milkshake, which is returning for a 15th year. Each hand-spun milkshake combines Chick-fil-A’s signature “Icedream” dessert and peach puree, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. S. Truett Cathy’s Icedream recipe, first served at the Dwarf House in the 1940s, helped inspire the Peach Milkshake. Chef Angela Canada perfected the recipe after more than 15 iterations and had it ready for launch in 2009.

Duncan separates Chick-fil-A’s innovation process into five phases. The first step is to understand what the customer wants in a new menu item. That’s followed up with imagining, which is an opportunity for chefs to unleash their creative talents and create based on guest feedback. All of the iterations are taken into the prototype phase in which Chick-fil-A refines the product and ensures it’s made in a way that’s simple for back-of-house employees. The fourth part is validation, a time when the brand tests and learns in pilot markets. The fifth and final stage is rolling out the menu item to everyone’s local Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Chick-fil-A created 16 variations of the sandwich, testing six of them, before landing on the Maple Pepper Bacon Sandwich as the final product.

“What flavors do customers really want? Especially attached to a grilled chicken sandwich?” Duncan says. “Christy then made a number of delicious grilled chicken sandwiches that we then took to a small group of customers who helped us narrow it down to one which is in the Maple Pepper Bacon that we got to test in Lexington and Indianapolis last summer. And then through that, we heard from customers, ‘What do you think? Is this something that you would want us to roll out?’ You talk with the restaurant team members as well to understand just the execution standpoint and now you get to see it in your local Chick-fil-A.”

The Maple Pepper Bacon Sandwich and Peach Milkshake are only the start of what’s to come for Chick-fil-A.

“So this year, we’re really focused on innovation and variety,” Duncan says. “We will continue to do a lot of development and testing within our seasonal entrées as well as beverages. You all have probably experienced Mango Passion and Cherry Berry this year. So more flavors to come there. But then also we’ve been testing our Pretzel Cheddar Club Sandwich in the North Carolina area. So we’ll get to see and hear from customers operators and team members as to whether or not we should roll that one out.”

Fast Food, Food, Marketing & Promotions, Menu Innovations, Story, Chick-fil-A