Chick-fil-A testing its spicy chicken nuggets in Denver

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Chick-fil-A, which doesn't roll out new menu items very often, is testing its second new product in recent memory -- a spicy chicken nugget -- at its twenty Denver locations, just a few months after it debuted its spicy chicken sandwich nationwide. Intrigued, Cafe Society dialed Steve Barker, a twelve-year executive with the Atlanta-based fast-food, er, quick-service chain to ask about the new product, what exactly makes the nuggets spicy and what else he has in store for members of the Chick-fil-A cult.

The nuggets will be available for a three-month testing period beginning October 4, but company PR people tell us that for five days starting September 20, customers can reserve a free order if they make a reservation at getspicynuggets.com. In addition to Denver, the nuggets are being tested in Augusta, Georgia, and in Baltimore and Cincinnati. More spicy tidbits from Barker:

Why is Chick-fil-A slow to roll out new menu items?

Some chains use a "ready, fire, adjust" methodology on how they introduce projects; we use a "ready, aim, aim, aim, fire" approach. We're very conservative about how we put things on the menu. We have a philosophy of menu permanence, and based on that, when we put something on the menu, it's our strong desire that it stay there forever. We want it to be something that the customers will accept and enjoy for the long haul, I guess.

Things get a little more complicated when Barker describes the nuggets themselves, which he says are 100 percent whole white meat chicken breast.

What spices are in these nuggets? The blend of peppers is a liquid marinade that's basically embedded into the chicken through a vacuum marination process. When you take a bite of these, you'll see, underneath, the seasoning coating on the outside of the product -- the crispy shell, essentially. You'll also see the marinade and the pepper blend, which has an orange-ish type of spicy look to it.

Would you consider these healthier than McDonald's famous Chicken McNuggets? We use 100 percent whole white meat chicken. It's a breast of chicken that's cut into bite-sized pieces. There's obviously no processing, no filler, no grinding, forming or pressing. It's just real chicken. When customers enjoy ours, versus the competition, they'll see that the eating experience is just different when you're eating a real piece of chicken versus a piece that's been processed.

How many of these nuggets have you eaten yourself? It's in the hundreds, if you think about all the testing and the tasting on the R&D side. It's not much of a stretch to say I'm in the triple digits.

Do you ever go into a Chick-fil-A incognito and watch how people react to your food, or stare at them while they eat? I do dine at Chick-fil-A, recreationally. When I'm in there with my T-shirt, shorts and flip-flips, I'm an average guy -- the way I want to be.

The best part about eating chicken nuggets is when you order an eight-count or a twelve-count and you actually end up with nine or thirteen nuggets. Have you considered telling your store managers that they should do this to every 100 orders or so, just to keep things interesting? I'm not sure we would program that into the system. We would hate for customers to be disappointed when they got the correct amount.

What else are you working on? One product that we have in test -- that we are continuing to work on -- will be a smoothie product. It's been in test for a little while. We're not making any official announcements on that right now. We're not sure when [it will be released].

Will you be in Denver to see how the testing is going? I'll be out in Denver quite a few times. I spend a lot of time in the field. The way to really do it is to be out in the field, talking to the local franchisees, team members and employees. Hopefully I can be out there during a long, snowy weekend.

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