Serious Eats

Taste Test: Wendy's New Fries

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Go to the Wendy's website, and the first thing you'll see is an advertisement for their "Natural-Cut Fries." Earlier this month, the burger chain began offering a new type of fry, made with skin-on potatoes and sprinkled with sea salt.

Seeing the advertisement for these new fries, the dreamer in me exclaimed, "Wow! Natural products at Wendy's! I can't wait!" But the logical consumer in me reacted differently—"What the hell does 'Natural-Cut' mean?" Does that imply they were artificially cut in the past? However you slice it (pun intended), Wendy's had a new product, and we had to try it out.

We first heard news of an impending change to the menu over a month ago. The chain announced that their new fries would be made from skin-on russet potatoes, fried until crisp in oil with no trans-fats, and sprinkled with sea salt.

In order to refresh my memory, I tried the old fries for the last time, committing the taste to memory—no surprise, they were the same old mealy, yellow sticks they've long served. I love Wendy's, but their fries have always been terrible. They were limp, soggy, never fried well, and never had the right amount of salt—I've had them both inedibly salty and totally unseasoned.

The Roll-Out?

Wendy's announced their "New Fry Day" would be November 12th, 2010—but after dropping into two Wendy's on my lunch hour and phoning half a dozen more, we learned that no NYC restaurants had the new fries. So much for a "big roll-out."*

*Luckily, I downloaded Angry Birds on Android, and promptly forgot about Wendy's for two whole weeks.

The Taste Test

Before tasting the fries, I could see that they looked almost identical to the old ones, though some had flecks of potato skin on the ends. And they basically tasted the same as the old fries, too. The sea salt did pick up the flavor a bit—better salting is never a bad thing—and they did seem to have a bit more true potato flavor than the old ones; my batch was also a bit crispier than I remember the old fries. But in absolute terms, they weren't very crisp.

Overall, relatively speaking, they are a bit better than the old fries—though just about any change would have been for the better. They still rank low on the fast food spectrum; not measuring up to Burger King or McDonald's.

This seems like just the latest in a series of chains making miniscule changes—or recombining elements of two products—and calling it a "new product roll-out". Subway may be the most egregious offender, frequently advertizing new subs that are simply recombinations of existing menu items. Similarly, McDonald's widely promoted the unexciting "Angus Snack Wrap," merely an existing Angus Burger on a tortilla.

Wendy's new fries reminded me of this phenomenon—I went to Wendy's expecting a big change, and I walked away having experienced a virtually identical product.

Have you tried the new fries? What do you think?

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