Several quick-service chains have introduced spicy menu items at the beginning of the year in what appears to be a demand from customers for more robust flavors.

Recent consumer trend data from Technomic indicates that 54 percent of Americans ages 18 or older like spicy food, an increase from 48 percent in 2011 and 46 percent in 2009. Restaurants are stepping in to satisfy customers’ cravings.


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Subway is bringing the spice with a Jalapeño Cheddar Bread that it introduced as a limited-time offer in the new year. The operator of nearly 40,000 units said the bread was a top performer in a national taste test.

Quick-service burger chains Wendy’s, Burger King and Jack in the Box have all added new spicy items in the past month.

Burger King introduced a Rodeo Crispy Chicken sandwich and a Rodeo Burger, each topped with onion rings and a sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce. Both sandwiches are on the dollar menu at the chain’s more than 7,000 domestic locations.

Burger King's Rodeo Crispy Chicken sandwich and Rodeo BurgerWendy’s is offering both a Spicy Chipotle Crispy Chicken Sandwich and a Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger for 99 cents each. Like many of the new spicy items on chain menus, the Wendy’s sandwiches are made with multiple spicy elements, including melted pepper Jack cheese, jalapeño peppers and a signature spicy sauce. The items are available at Wendy’s more than 5,800 domestic units.

Jack in the Box is taking a similar tack with its new Jalapeño BBQ Burger, which has crispy jalapeño and onion strips, jalapeño barbecue sauce, American cheese and hickory-smoked bacon.

Like other chains, 2,200-unit Jack in the Box combines spicy and cooling elements in its Fajita Ranch Melt, which has pepper Jack cheese and taco sauce for spice and ranch dressing to moderate the heat.

The Fajita Ranch Melt is available at participating Jack in the Box locations in California, Idaho, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. The Jalapeño BBQ Burger is available at participating restaurants in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arizona, Washington and Kansas. Both sandwiches are priced at $3.99.

Whataburger, Sonic and more

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Whataburger also combines jalapeño and ranch in its Monterey Melt, a burger with Monterey Jack and American cheeses, grilled onions, grilled poblano peppers and jalapeño ranch sauce. The price varies by location, is comparable to similar burgers the chain offers.

Originally introduced as a limited-time-offer last year, the 740-unit chain added the sandwich to its All-Time Favorites menu as a permanent item on Dec. 30.

“The ingredients in the Monterey Melt were carefully selected to work together to create an intense, memorable set of flavors,” Whataburger vice president of marketing and innovation Rich Scheffler said in a press release.

Jack in the Box's Jalapeño BBQ BurgerThe Loop, a 13-unit fast-casual chain based in Jacksonville, Fla., offers a limited-time chicken sandwich and burger — each topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pepper Jack cheese, grilled jalapeño peppers and avocado — as part of its 10-week “Southwest Zest Fest.”

Cathy Manzon, The Loop’s marketing director, said the jalapeños combined with the creamy, cooling taste of the avocado were “a perfect combination.”

The sandwiches are priced at around $8.79, depending on the location.

Sonic Drive-In uses avocado to cool the new, spicy Salsa Verde in its Salsa Verde Breakfast Burrito and Salsa Verde Breakfast Toaster.

The more-than-3,500-unit chain’s Salsa Verde combines roasted tomatillos, onions, jalapeños and roasted garlic.

The Salsa Verde Burrito has bacon, scrambled eggs, onions, American cheese  melted Cheddar cheese, tots and Salsa Verde, served in a flour tortilla. It is priced at a systemwide average of $3.49. The Salsa Verde Breakfast Toaster has has bacon, scrambled eggs, onions, American cheese and Salsa Verde, served on Texas toast. It is priced at a systemwide average of $2.99.

“The combination of zesty Salsa Verde and rich, real avocado brings an added layer of depth and dimension to our breakfast burritos and toasters,” Sonic’s vice president of product innovation Claes Petersson said in a release.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary