The Spice Rush: How Fast Food is Turning Hot

In an effort to reduce the transient trends of ‘healthy’ food options at the fast food chain, many companies are opting for a spicy alternative. Spice-infused sandwiches, meats, and combinations are popping up at a variety of familiar establishments including McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Wendy’s, and Sonic Drive-In. This ‘spice rush’ provides an alternative to the recent low-carb and South Beach diet crazes that seem to bop and surface each season. Instead, these chains and others are catering their menus to large appetites and flavor preferences.

McDonald’s has launched the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, offering an addition to its Premium Line. It’s no healthy feat at 510 calories and 17 grams of fat, but it does give a whole new twist on the McChicken with it’s zesty crunch. However, McDonald’s also pulled the Hot ‘n Spicy sandwich off the menu after a dismal launch this January.

Wendy’s battles head-to-head with its version of a Spicy Chicken sandwich on the 99 cent menu. This one ranks in at 430 calories and 15 grams of fat, and promises to ‘kick it up a notch,’ with the peppery and chile-style flavors. Another McDonald’s contender, the 4-Alarm Spicy Chicken sandwich has made a debut in three markets on a test-basis; this one includes jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle sauce.

Hardee’s Thickburger line continues to expand the nation’s waistlines with the Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger, a Ã?½ lb. patty topped with the works and a signature zesty BBQ sauce. Hardee’s focus is geared toward large and robust appetites, and other offerings include the August introduction of the Red Burrito brand. Red Burrito includes fresh burritos stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, spicy meat, cheeses, and zesty sauces.

Sonic Drive-In has also joined the spice rush with three new items launched this summer; jalapenos are the name fo the game here, with a Spicy Super Sonic Burger topped with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, deep-fried jalapeno strips, and chipotle sauce. The Southwest Breakfast Burrito has the added benefit of the crispy Jalapeno peppers, and the Jalapeno Strips are offered as a side with chipotle dipping sauce.

So what explains the surge of spicy tastes to the fast food nation? There is a significant turn toward fresh new taste this year, a movement that is slowly moving away from a diet-specific mode. Chains like Hardee’s are focusing more on the male market, incorporating demographic-specific advertising and catering to larger appetites, not dieters. McDonald’s continues to evolve the menu, offering a line of premium sandwiches and themed products for the season such as the World Cup Burger.

A zip of spice can certainly ramp up any menu item, simply by adding jalapenos, chile, pepper, pepper jack cheese, or a variation of a hot sauce. As the American need for taste overrides the need for substance, we can plan on more renditions of spice-infused meats and sandwiches. These aren’t burn-your-tongue-off ventures, but do provide a different line of flavor when the need for change beckons from the fast food window. Besides, consumers can always count on a milkshake to cool things off!

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