Brand Blogging

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Wendy's and Arby's ridiculous new menu items

Terri: I'm so hungry I could eat at Arby's!

The only Arby's I'd ever been to was the one down the street from where I went to high school. I think I ate there a total of one time before they closed it down and turned it into a Wendy's.

Both of these fast-food chains are in the midst of menu additions that seek to make their respective brands more upscale, at least to the extent that a place (as Peter Griffin would say) where homeless people go to make BM can be made more upscale. For starters, Wendy's has introduced its line of "Frescata" sandwiches. The Google search string frescata -wendy -wendy's -wendys seems to indicate that the word is a Spanish/Italian/Portuguese last name, though it's obvious that Wendy's wants to evoke the idea of freshness and Italianness. According to an article from Time a few months back:

To keep growing, fast-food chains have to offer new reasons for people to come into the store. That's what Wendy's has always done best. It will have a chance to prove itself again later this year when it unveils its Frescata cold sandwiches. The Frescata line uses high-quality meat and focaccia bread developed with the artisanal bakery La Brea. Wendy's has a financial relationship with La Brea through the Canadian company Tim Hortons, a coffee and bakery chain that Wendy's bought in 1995. That's one reason Schuessler plans to hold onto Tim's, despite pressure from some hedge funds to spin it off. The bread gets its final baking in the restaurants, a technique that Meyer of CSFB says will be harder for other companies to copy than earlier innovations were.
Interesting. making use of a strategic partnership by using it as a learning process. You have to wonder what La Brea (if its managers have enough insight) is learning for itself. Perhaps they'll start serving a junior bacon triple on a fragrant roasted garlic loaf bun. (Interesting fact: Wendy's is based in Dublin, Ohio; La Brea is owned by IAWS, based in Dublin, Ireland.)

The Frescata commercials make me suspicious for a couple of reasons. First, the way they look. I've had my share of Wendy's burgers, which theoretically, at least according to Wendy's, look like this:

In reality, they look more like this:

Yes, there are five patties on that burger. But what I wonder is how the the empirical Frescata will deviate from this representation, taken Wendy's site:

And furthermore, what does this have to do with those people who buy the five-patty burgers? The idea of a deli sandwich just seems so foreign for a place that primarily sells hamburgers. (Though perhaps the same could have been said when they first introduced baked potatoes.)

As for Arby's, they've been trying for a few years now to change their image. First it was with those annoying oven mitt commercials. Tragically, the oven mitt died in a knife fight with the Hamburger Helper Helping Hand. (Interesting fact: the oven mitt was voiced by Tom Arnold, who received free Arby's food for life as payment. That's kinda disgusting on multiple levels if you think about it too much.)

Recently, Arby's has been playing commercials promoting their new Market Fresh™ Roast Beef Gyro (though you wouldn't know it from their web site, which hasn't been updated since 2004 and looks like it was created using all of the web design know-how that 1998 had to offer). The Market Fresh label refers to a line of somewhat fancy (for Arby's) sandwich and salad items. Two things bother me about this sandwich: first, in the commercial they pronounce it "hero," which is not one of the two acceptable pronunciations for gyro ("jye-ro," "yeero"); second, a gyro doesn't have roast beef, at least not roast beef as we have commonly come to think of it. It has beef that has been roasted, but it doesn't have roast beef. And yet, let's take a look at the press release:

“If Arby’s were in Greece, this is what the locals would be lining up to enjoy,” said Greek culture expert, Maria Pantelis, who was born and raised in Athens. “Arby’s gyro has all of the authentic ingredients that you would look for in a gyro."

Now, I've been eating gyros all my life. I am passionate about gyros. I've been involved in heated arguments concerning gyros and their classification with regard to similar foods (viz. doner kabob and shwarma). So I can say with absolute certainty that a gyro with thin-sliced roast beef is about as authentic as Donald Trump's hair/Ashley Simpson's singing/Pamela Anderson's Boobs/etc.

Overall, I think that both sandwiches, whatever their merits, will fade into oblivion along with the Arch Deluxes of yesteryear. At the very least, it's not as ham-fisted as KFC's recent initiative to reposition itself into a competitor for the "casual dining" dollar; this primarily consists of tv commercials in which one person informs a companion that they bought lunch at KFC for half of what it would cost at a casual dining restaurant. This, of course, completely ignores the fact that no one in the known history of the English language has ever used the phrase "casual dining restaurant" in the course of everyday conversation. It also leaves the viewer wondering about the relationship of price to quality, but that's a subject for another post.


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