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Burger Chains’ Spring Menu Thaw Continues

Filed under Angus, breakfast, Global Burgers, LTO, QSR Burgers, Test Market

Jack in the Box's Bourbon BBQ Steak Grilled Sandwich

[Update: Don’t miss Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr.’s funny new burgers commercial! Here.]
Jack in the Box’s introduction today of the latest in its line of grilled items—the Bourbon BBQ Steak Grilled Sandwich—is likely to be the first of many menu additions as the traditional March/April menu-development vacation ends and chains open up the new-menu-item pipeline. Consider that this is Jack in the Box’s first new item since January’s All-American Jack Combo. 

Jack’s steak sandwich may be one of the few new items from the beef side of the commodity ledger. Beef prices are high and rising, meaning chains have planned a rush of chicken intros to go easy on profit margins. All the talk from McDonald’s execs last week was about chicken: Chicken McNuggets, McChicken, Chicken McBites, the return of the Asian Chicken Salad, and so on. 

Wendy’s told analysts in March that it planned to introduce a new chicken salad with blueberries, strawberries, Asiago cheese and über-trendy açai berry dressing. That salad should arrive in early May. The Dave’s Hot ‘n Juicy Cheeseburgers are still planned for a fall rollout. 

Normally a big beef promoter, Checkers’ deal is two chicken and/or fish sandwiches for just $2. Red Robin Gourmet Burgersnewest additions include such items as pork riblets with chicken strips, chicken with shrimp, riblets with mac’n cheese and a Red’s Nantucket Seafood Scatter with cod and shrimp. No new burgers. Johnny Rockets’ latest? Chicken Philly Cheese Steak. Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. tout turkey burgers. 

◙ McDonald’s hasn’t given up on beef, of course. In Australia, the chain this week will add yet another Angus burger LTO, this one a Smokey BBQ Angus Burger with Swiss cheese, bacon, red onion and smoky barbecue sauce on a sourdough bun. A Smokey BBQ Cheeseburger version also is planned, sources say. 

Burger King's homage to Southern barbecue on a burger. In Germany.

◙ So where does menu innovation really begin? Take the Melt ‘n Middles burgers that Burger King offers in the UK, for example. The idea: two burger patties with cheese sauce in between. In a charming YouTube video on Burger King’s UK Facebook site, Mark Dowding, its director of product development and innovation, explains that this burger was “inspired by one of my favorites, and I’m sure yours, cheese on toast.” But BK didn’t just put cheese on toast. No, sir. “We took it one step further, and with our team of chefs came up with the idea of putting delicious cheese flavors between two 100% flame-grilled patties,” Dowding says proudly.

McDonald's Hungarian breakfast burger

More innovative are the latest U.S.-tribute sandwiches Burger King offers in Germany: the Spicy New Orleans burger (beef, Cheddar Cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and red jalapeños) and the Mississippi Barbecue (two beef patties, crispy fried peppers and onions, Cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce).

◙ What many QSR consumers want to see is an all-day breakfast menu. Jack in the Box and Sonic offer it already. In the Springfield, Mo., area, McDonald’s has been testing a limited expansion of its breakfast menu. Stores in that market have been its offering Sausage Breakfast Burrito, Cinnamon Melts and Hotcakes all day. McDonald’s has not responded to a question about where else this experiment might be underway. 

In Hungary, McDonald’s has added a Fresh Omelet Sandwich (right) for breakfast. It’s a spicy pork patty with lettuce, tomato, processed Cheddar cheese, mayo and folded egg.