Monday, June 4, 2007

Where there's smoke, will there be fire?

Smoke is emerging as a key flavoring in this spring’s crop of new chain menu items. Consider, for instance, the products that were unveiled today alone. The barbecue fumes were enough to make your eyes water.

El Pollo Loco added two variations on its flame-grilled Chipotle Barbecue Chicken—one featuring barbecued beans, the other a dash of barbecue sauce, for added smokiness in items that started with the flavor of a smoked habanero.

Jack in the Box’s hyperactive R&D center cranked out an item also featuring grilled chicken, a shot of barbecue sauce, and some barbecue redundancy—in this case, barbecue-flavored tortilla strips, all mixed into a new entrée salad called the BBQ Ranch Chicken.

And Quiznos, an LTO machine in its own right, took its new Baja Chicken sub out of the bag. It’s hepped up with two sauces—a chipotle (read: smoky-tasting) mayo, and a proprietary sauce called Smoky Baja.

Another common trait of the bunch: Most were premium-priced, ranging as high as $7.99 for a large version of Quiznos’ new sub, to no lower than $4.99 for the Jack in the Box salad (though El Pollo Loco didn’t tell us what it’s charging).

Of course, those weren’t the only products introduced today by chains of scale. Taco Bell also fly-cast one into the market—without a hint of smoke, or a premium price, for that matter. Its new Extreme Cheese and Beef Quesadilla is aimed at the young men who want heft, but don’t have the pocket money to buy in volume and still put something toward the next body piercing. It’s priced at $1.29.


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