Not long ago you were limited to only three choices when it came to finding fast food chain restaurants open for breakfast: McDonald’s, McDonald’s or McDonald’s.
But on-the-go dining has come a long way. These days, when you open your ChainWise restaurant app in the morning, you’re likely to come up with plenty of breakfast options, from fast food fare to sit-down fast casual chains.
Sales Numbers Never Lie
Why the sudden interest in helping consumers launch their day? It boils down to pretty straightforward economics. Julia Gallo-Torees, U.S. food services manager for Mintel, told Market Watch recently that breakfast menu items are the only real growth opportunities fast-food and casual-dining chain restaurants can cling to.
The numbers speak for themselves. According to Mintel, breakfast sales rose over 5 percent to $27.4 billion in 2013 at quick-service and fast-casual chain restaurants, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Not to mention, every time you hit up a breakfast spot you found on ChainWise, you’re likely to end up contributing to continued phenomenal growth in sales of breakfast meats and eggs, which climbed 300 percent between 2010 and 2013.
Chain Restaurants Rise or Fall with Coffee
So, how are chain restaurants luring you in during the morning hours? Most are focusing on hooking you with a good cup of coffee to give them the edge on winning the much-coveted breakfast dollar. In fact, Warren Solochek, vice president of client development for the food service practice market research firm The NPD Group, told Market Watch that the following chain restaurants had all recently upgraded their morning coffee: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Burger King.
Just look at what happened when Taco Bell ran its breakfast food campaign using non-actors with the real name Ronald McDonald. Did McDonald’s retaliate in like fashion? No, it rolled out a campaign that gave out free coffee for two weeks to lure customers away from Taco Bell’s new breakfast offerings.
Boring But Profitable Breakfast Staple
You might be surprised to learn about another high-margin breakfast food that is continuing to grow in popularity with breakfast customers: oatmeal. There’s no solid explanation for why the lowly bowl of oatmeal has become so competitive among chain restaurants—Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jamba Juice, Einstein Bros. Bagels, and Caribou Coffee all serve a version—but the answer could be in the time it takes most people to cook it at home.
Sure, the instant packets are quick, but they’re just that: instant. The real stuff out of the paper canister tastes better. The tradeoff is the time investment, which eats into morning routine time, which eats into sleep time. Therein lies the reason folks are stepping up for a bowl at their favorite chain restaurant. It helps that many restaurants throw in goodies like raisins, brown sugar and nuts.
Another reason for the oatmeal trend is that it plays into fast food’s reluctance to give up on trying to market to an increasingly more sophisticated and health-conscious crowd. In most attempts to do so, new menu items have quietly disappeared not long after their arrival. But oatmeal with a gourmet flair seems to have enough sticking power to make a difference.
Certainly, it can be argued to the healthy-minded that oatmeal is the wiser choice, with a bowl of McDonald’s fruit and maple oatmeal with brown sugar sporting 290 calories, 4 g of fat, and 160 mg of sodium. Compare it to Taco Bell’s hotly advertised Waffle Taco at 370 calories, 23 g of fat, 115 mg of cholesterol, and 550 mg of sodium.
The dust is far from settling and the battle over breakfast is likely to continue. For now, it appears the consumer may just end up the victor, with more choices of chain restaurants and more menu items to start the day.
Written by Lori Weaver. You can find her on Google.