Wendy’s will reintroduce its popular Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and Pretzel Pub Chicken menu items next month, with a twist: The sandwiches might be back on the menu permanently.

A day before Wednesday’s announcement that Wendy’s would look to repeat last year’s success with pretzel buns, chief executive Emil Brolick reportedly said, “time will tell,” when asked whether the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and its sibling chicken sandwich would be back to stay.

The two sandwiches are expected to be available systemwide by Fourth of July weekend, the Dublin, Ohio-based operator said. In 2013, Wendy’s drove third-quarter same-store sales increases of 3.2 percent at company-owned locations and 3.1 percent at franchised units following the July debut of the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger.

Nation’s Restaurant News recognized Wendy’s with a 2014 MenuMasters Award for Best Limited Time Offer to honor not only the sandwich’s ability to drive sales, but also to lead a menu trend across the restaurant industry that adopted more upscale bread choices, including and especially pretzel buns.

Wendy’s followed that limited-time offer with the Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich in October, which contributed to fourth-quarter same-store sales gains of 3.1 percent at company-owned restaurants and 2.8 percent at franchised units.

In a statement, chief marketing officer Craig Bahner said Wendy’s removed the pretzel bun sandwiches last year to make way for other premium burgers on upscale bread — including the Bacon Portabella Melt on brioche and the Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger — “but consumers made it clear we couldn’t say goodbye to pretzel forever.”

Bahner’s comment referred to the social media buzz generated when Wendy’s dropped the LTO product. In fact, social media outcry for the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger after Wendy’s extended its original limited-time run, but then let it roll off the menu, went viral.

“The pretzel bun was a cornerstone of our menu innovation last year,” Bahner said, “and we are bringing it back to delight consumers who love this special taste from Wendy’s.”

The brand also will reportedly allow customers to upgrade the bun of any standard burger to a pretzel bun for an additional 30-cent charge. New commercials starring its “Red” spokeswoman reportedly are set to begin airing before the early July relaunch of the pretzel bun sandwiches.

Wendy’s previous social media efforts for the menu items included “Pretzel Love Songs,” a fan participation campaign that collected Facebook comments and tweets from lovers of the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and compiled them into cheesy love songs sung by ’90s music icon Nick Lachey. That campaign reached more than 85 million people on Facebook, the social network disclosed.

A separate analysis from NRN’s Social 200 index found that Wendy’s repeated the tactic successfully with its “L’Estrella de la Toscana” video series, which converted Facebook comments and tweets into subtitles for a fake Italian film the brand made to promote the Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta sandwich.

Wendy’s operates or franchises more than 6,500 restaurants in the United States and 28 foreign markets.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN