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Fast Food Chains Use Heat to Win Over Millennials

The fast-food landscape in America has changed. Powerhouses like McDonald’s are losing their market share as younger consumers begin to demand food products beyond the traditional fare that their parents ate. Struggling operations have been keen to pounce on the rising demand for artisanal products and healthier fare, but it would appear they are now primed to take on another Millennial favorite: spicy food.

The last few months have been, well, hot, when it comes to new spicy food offerings at fast-food locations: Wendy’s introduced two spicy menu items on April 20, including a Jalapeno Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwhich and Ghost Pepper Fries. Late in March, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. introduced four new varieties of Thickburgers El Diablo, featuring sliced jalapenos, crunchy jalapeno poppers, spicy habanero bacon sauce and pepper-Jack cheese. Jack in the Box relaunched it’s Blazin’ Chicken Sandwhich which features jalapenos and a ghost pepper-infuesed ranch dressing. Taco Bell even debuted the Sriracha Quesarito in February to lure in those who have a penchant for the iconic hot sauce.

The moves seem to feature jalapenos as a primary ingredient, but a quick look to USDA’s AMS weekly report on vegetables does not indicate a flooding of jalapenos into the market place, as movement is reported to be about the same. After ruling out a supply glut as a cause for the adoption of the pepper, it would appear these moves are designed specifically to cater to the rising demand of spicy food by Millennials. Mintel reported in 2013 that consumer demand for hotter and spicier foods rose by 38% in the U.S. and by 26% in the EU. In the U.S., the demand for spicier foods was met mostly by increased use of jalapeno and cayenne peppers. (Editor’s Note: The AMS page is updated weekly).

When studying young millennials in 2014 (categorized as persons between the ages of 18 and 24), Mintel also found that the group “tends to be more adventurous with their palate, and seek out ethnic flavors like Chilean and Korean, as well as spicy peppers and flavors like jalapeños.” Despite the generalization that the group will spend more on quality when it comes to food, they are still quite eager to save money when they can and will look for cheaper options as long as it does not influence quality. Combined with their penchant for choosing portable and convenient foods, Millennials seem like the perfect target for new, spicy options. Fast food chains could stand to increase their standing and sway public opinion with Millennials by offering them the delicious, spicy foods they so crave.