You've likely heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but does that energy-boosting repast do the same for the business serving it up? In the QSR industry, the answer is, increasingly, affirmative. Eager to turn a profit on hungry customers kick-starting their busy schedules, the industry has been looking to reinvent itself as a morning ritual that extends beyond a quick cup of coffee at the drive-thru. With a glut of fast food options on the market, however, where can one restaurant differentiate itself over a competitor? Surprisingly, it’s the supply chain that can make all the difference.
A Boost in Variety
Take the enduring smoothie, a go-to breakfast item for the health-conscious niche. One smoothie is essentially the same as another, right? Not in McDonald's eyes. The industry leading QSR chain went a step above then-competitor Burger King's Mango smoothie offering, adding pineapple for an extra boost of tropical flavor. While it would have been easier to roll out the same single-ingredient mango sourcing that had already proven popular on the market, that extra step differentiated the chain. When tied into marketing that prominently featured their new premium smoothie flavor lineup, McDonald's brand power lent the beverage even more legitimacy. The mere appearance of the drinks boosted interest and sales at their own counters and even, according to the Wall Street Journal, in the grocery store.
Not a bad ripple effect for a single detour in the supply chain. The smoothies have been on the menu and selling strong for 6 years as of 2016.
A Boost in Versatility
Reinventing existing ingredients for different mealtimes is an exercise in efficiency, but even the most innovative companies need to bring in fresh ingredient ideas now and then. While fan-favorite foods like bacon easily saunter from day to night, weightier fare like steak can struggle to double back for breakfast. But the Carl's Jr./Hardee's chain is betting that larger appetites will appreciate steak at sunrise, and have recently rolled out grilled, marinated steak for their breakfast menu.
Astute QSR trendspotters can trace this fad's slow growth to a recent appearance in Taco Bell's relatively new breakfast menu and even further back to McDonald's 2013 rollout of the steak, egg and cheese bagel. If your chain wanted to join the "high steaks" ranks of these meaty offerings, would you be able to with relative ease? Your supply chain's ability to secure multi-meal ingredients like steak will maximize your procurement efforts and ultimately lead to more profitable research, development and market testing.
A Boost in Vitality
It's a double-edged sword for QSR companies, the desire to have customers adopt restaurant visits as a habit, all while balancing fears that their menus will grow boring to those same avid consumers. The speed with which new, intriguing ingredients can be secured is a very important consideration — one that can revive a flagging brand or even save it from a slow fade to obscurity. If a supply chain gets too deep into a rut, it can be very difficult to pull up and continue to innovate.
A regional strategy — one in which new or variant breakfast items are introduced in limited geographical areas — does more than test the waters for your target market: It keeps your supply chain on its toes. Without semi-frequent problem solving and challenges to contend with, your supply chain partners could grow complacent or become callused to eventual necessary, not experimental, changes in procurement and supply. As Elliot Maras explains in Food Logistics, QSRs have started competing with a surge of quick-service prepackaged meals in non-QSR locations like grocery stores, so it's more important than ever to remain a viable, interesting option through an agile supply chain.
The QSR industry is poised to eat market share for breakfast, but it's a delicious meal reserved only for those with strong, flexible supply chains. Don't let complacency lure your supply chain into falling short on this important morning meal. Make sure that you have equal access to new, trending or specialty varietal ingredients to accompany your egg and bacon-filled core. Your customers will love the choices, and you'll love the profit that comes along with them.