For Wendy's Co., based in Dublin, Ohio, reinvention is critical. That's why executives at the 6,600-restaurant chain spent the past two and a half years going over burger minutiae during an undertaking they call Project Gold Hamburger. That included deciding whether to switch from white onions on its burgers to red (they did), to change the fat/lean ratio of the meat (they didn't), or to go with plain or crinkled pickles (they picked crinkled.)
Wendy's is trying to boost lackluster sales and fight growing competition from much bigger rival McDonald's on one end and expanding fast-casual chains like Five Guys on the other. Part of the problem is that Americans, who are being squeezed by the tight economy, are being pickier about how they spend their dining-out dollars. But the biggest issue is that Wendy's, which hadn't changed its burger since the chain began in 1969, let its food offerings get stale over the years while its competitors continued to update their menus.
Still, it can be risky to tweak an old and familiar product. In fact, the past is littered with examples of this, including New Coke and Clear Pepsi, which were eventually pulled from store shelves because customers didn't like the new versions. Wendy's itself stumbled a few years ago when it tried to introduce breakfast foods. The company now says it made a mistake by offering omelets and pancakes, which aren't conducive to eating on the go.