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Quick-service restaurants hit customers' sweet tooth

Krystal, Sonic, Wendy’s and Checkers roll out dessert and sweet snack offerings

Despite consumers’ heightened interest in more healthful food from quick-service restaurants, brands in that sector continue to roll out sweet-tooth satisfying menu offerings, including Krystal Restaurants, which just introduced a Strawberry Shortcake dessert at its burger restaurants across the South.

Just one day after the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based brand announced it was up for sale, Krystal unveiled its new dessert of strawberries, pound cake and whipped cream for $2.79. The Strawberry Shortcake is available through the summer and early fall.

“Everybody in the industry is looking to bring new flavors and product ideas that will drive sales,” said Brad Wahl, vice president of marketing at Krystal. “We had real successful tests for the strawberry shortcake in the Orlando market.”

Krystal’s customers are not necessarily seeking a healthful experience at the 79-year-old chain known for its small, square burgers.

“It’s about bringing a big experience during their visit,” Wahl said. “Our customers don’t expect that [nutrition] from our brand. We’re the reward at the end of the day.”

Other quick-service brands, including Sonic, Wendy’s and Checkers, have also recently unveiled new desserts and sweet snacks this summer.

Ryan Joy, senior director of research and development Checkers, who oversaw Checkers’ development of a new line of 20 ice cream cones, shakes and sundaes this year, said the recent proliferation of sweet treats responds to customers who “still want to indulge.”

“You can go out to a quick-service restaurant and buy a relatively inexpensive treat. Or if you buy a combo and they offer you that cone for a buck, you will do it,” Joy said. “It makes people feel good. QSR has noticed that and has jumped on that bandwagon.”

Sonic, the Oklahoma City-based quick-service chain with 3,500 drive-ins in 43 states, released three new Sundae Shakes in Turtle, Strawberry Dream and Classic Hot Fudge flavors. Sonic serves the treats in a new cup designed to mimic the look of old metallic cups from vintage ice cream parlors.

Wendy’s, the nation’s third-biggest burger chain, chose the fruit route with a Wild Berry Frosty Parfait and a Wild Berry Frosty Shake, which it has been promoting in television commercials this summer. Wendy’s is also offering a Caramel Apple Parfait.

Patrick O’Reilly, president of Arlington, Va.-based Applied Predictive Technologies, a software consulting firm that helps restaurants with market testing, said quick-service restaurants in general have moved from focusing only on price promotional levels to developing new products, such as desserts.

“They’re finding people are not as health-conscious as they say they are,” O’Reilly said.

In some cases, the sweet offerings are more than just desserts, said Nancy Kruse, an Atlanta-based menu consultant and president of the Kruse Co. Consumers may buy them as snacks outside traditional dayparts and, for some, a Wendy’s Wild Berry Parfait can even be seen as a meal alternative to a burger and fries, Kruse said.

“For years and years, the QSR dessert category has been a non-starter,” Kruse said. “There was a reliance on fried apple pies. Now, there’s a real attempt to break out of that tired, less healthy image.”

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @AlanSnelNRN

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