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church's chicken hot sauce.jpg Photo courtesy of Church's Chicken
Church's Chicken has launched a signature hot sauce for the first time in its 70 years, contributing to a busy slate of new QSR sauce news.

In QSR, sauces start to command a bigger spotlight

Data shows that 34% of consumers now consider what sauces are available when deciding on a restaurant.

In August, we theorized that sauces were becoming a new battleground in the limited-service sector, citing a steady trickle of new news emerging about the meal accessory and its rising popularity.

That trickle has since turned into a flood. 

Moreover, sauces are becoming the focal point of brands’ promotions, not just a sidebar. So, it’s perhaps already time to talk about sauces again. To start, let’s examine why we’re having these frequent conversations in the first place. First, consumers’ desire for sauces has grown as our food has become more globalized and our palates more sophisticated.  According to Innova’s 2022 Flavor Survey, 39% of consumers said they’re most likely to experiment with flavors through sauces, seasonings and toppings. This experimentation extends beyond their own kitchens; Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report finds that 34% of consumers consider what sauces and condiments are available when deciding what restaurants to visit.

That brings us to the second point; as BurgerFi CMO Cindy Syracuse said during the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference, sauces can be a major differentiator and therefore provide a competitive advantage. Syracuse and her company are certainly doing their part to leverage this opportunity – BurgerFi recently debuted the Heinz Remix Machine at a Florida location, claiming to be the first restaurant brand to do so. The Heinz Remix allows customers to create their own condiment/sauce concoctions for fries, onion rings, whatever, from a variety of bases that include ranch, smoky chipotle, Buffalo, and mango. In a statement, CEO Carl Bachmann said, “there is nothing more distinctive than being able to create a sauce flavor profile that is custom to your craving.”

And third, younger consumers especially love their sauces, or as KFC CMO Nick Chavez recently said, they like to “dip, drench, and sauce everything. Everything.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that KFC is leading this evolving conversation about sauces. The company recently launched Saucy Nuggets, flavoring up its chicken nuggets with honey sriracha, Korean BBQ, Sticky Chicky Sweet ‘n Sour, Nashville Hot and Georgia Gold sauces. In other words, sauces for every palate, Chavez said. To mark this menu launch, KFC moved its sauces into the spotlight with a KFC Saucy Nuggets Dispensary popup in Los Angeles and corresponding merchandise.

We’ve also started to see more brands extend their signature sauces onto retail shelves, including Chick-fil-A. More recently, Subway teamed up with T. Marzetti Co. to launch four of its sauces – Sweet Onion Teriyaki, Roasted Garlic Aioli, Baja Chipotle, and Creamy Italian MVP – at select retailers and grocery stores. The latter sauce is not offered in restaurants, creating an added incentive for such retail purchases.

After its menu removal in 2022, Bojangles just brought back its Bo Sauce and also partnered with Sauer Brands to bottle its most popular dipping sauces at select grocery stores across the Southeast, including Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Ingles, KJ’s. Lowes Foods, and Piggly Wiggly. Meanwhile, and just last month, Texas Roadhouse added its Roadhouse Gold Steak Sauce and Classic Steak Sauce to retailers nationwide, also in partnership with T. Marzetti. Just how important have sauces become? Texas Roadhouse doesn’t have limited time offers or delivery, but it believes in the power of having its sauces on retail shelves.

After seven decades, Church’s Chicken is even getting in on the conversation, launching its first-ever signature hot sauce.

“For more than 70 years, Church’s has been known for its famous chicken, bold flavors and spices,” CEO Joe Guith said in a statement. “We felt it was time to introduce a new dipping sauce that could punch up the level of heat and flavor even more.”

And good timing at that. Here’s a look at some of the additional sauce news that has come out in just the past few months:

  • Wendy’s teamed up with Cholula to roll out new breakfast burritos in January.
  • Taco Bell launched an entirely new sauce, Avocado Verde, to complement its new Cantina Chicken menu. The chain also partnered with Portland-based hot sauce company, Secret Aardvark, to introduce Secret Aardvark Nacho Fries. Last year, the chain partnered with Yellowbird and Truff’s to sauce up its signature Nacho Fries.
  • In March, Zaxby’s rolled out new Southern Fried Shrimp along with new Zaxtail Sauce, which blends the brand’s signature Zax Sauce and cocktail sauce, with notes of horseradish.
  • Fajita Pete’s launched a new chipotle aioli sauce in April, with smoky notes from chipotles, spice derived from habaneros and jalapeños, and sweetness from onions. The company said the sauce development took months of experimentation and refinement, as well as “extensive testing” at catering events. In a statement, CEO Pedro “Pete” Mora said people at those events began asking where they could buy the sauce. “This fueled our determination to introduce it to the market.”
  • In February, Tasting Table spotted a Green Siren Sauce and a Red Siren Sauce at Starbucks locations. The green sauce features a “creamy, herby ranch flavor,” while the red sauce features a roasted red pepper flavor to drizzle.
  • And then there’s McDonald’s, which came up with a new Savory Chili WcDonald’s Sauce to go with its anime-inspired WcDonald’s campaign. The sauce, a mix of ginger, garlic, soy, and chile flakes, was only available for a limited time, but illustrates the progressing role of sauces as part of brands’ promotions.  
  • We anticipate this progress to accelerate and in May, Sonic plans to introduce what it’s calling Groovy Sauce, with ranch and herbs combined with Sriracha. The sauce was created to complement Sonic’s new Groovy Fries, which, according to the company, feature a new shape that “make them ideal for dipping in your favorite sauce.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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