It may be an inconvenient truth for fast food chains, but no matter how appealing breakfast offerings may be, if they don't spell convenience to the customer, the resulting market share will be disappointing. In fact, this is one reason some chains are still resisting the move to add breakfast items to the menu.
If the food isn't portable enough, or if the location isn't well-suited to a "grab and go" clientele, the food is apt to languish on the shelf rather than being grabbed by the hungry crowd. And that adds little to the bottom line of any quick service restaurant.
The Simple Test
The overwhelming success of breakfast items for chains like McDonalds and Taco Bell has been with single, handheld items — breakfast sandwiches and burritos notably making inroads into the market share formerly held by donuts. Customers, by and large, don't want to take the time to sit and eat, and drippy, saucy, syrupy and crumbly are not great meal characteristics for the on-the-go consumer — for breakfast or any other time of day. Convenience is king.
In addition to quickness of service and portability of the food itself, the physical location of a restaurant must be convenient as well. A fast food location that isn't on a highly-traveled morning commute probably won't reap the full benefits of a breakfast menu — one of the reasons why some chains don't see the need to offer that first meal at all outlets.
When it's an individual store decision, breakfast hours may also be open to local adjustment.
Other Themes to Watch
In addition to convenience, other themes have emerged in the quick service restaurant panoply of breakfast items: While there is a great deal of buzz about the healthfulness of fast food, many consumers want breakfast to feel like an indulgence. This trend toward decadence has taken some breakfast sandwiches to new heights — whether they are meant to be eaten on the go or enjoyed inside at a table.
Dunkin Donuts, for example, offers a newly-revived Chicken Apple Sausage Breakfast Sandwich with less than 400 calories. The combo is presented on an English muffin and features reduced fat cheddar cheese. Contrast that with bacon slices and peppered egg sandwiched between the two halves of a glazed donut!
Competition is stiff, and breakfast menu development overlaps into pleasing the lunch crowd as well, with options at some stores targeting early risers who skip that first meal in favor of caffeine alone, but are hungry for something filling and tasty for brunch. There is a growing trend toward diversity, with original combinations like the Power Panini from Corner Bakery Cafe that includes spinach, avocado and scrambled egg on thin-sliced toast, with salsa available on the side or the sturdy grilled onion, creamy horseradish sauce, brisket and egg combo on a toasted bagel, offered by Bruegger's Bagels.
These dual themes of health and overload also contribute to the popularity of breakfast at non-traditional hours.
What Is the Future?
Just as there seems to be a divergence of attitude between restraint and indulgence of breakfast food, there is also an apparent dichotomy between sustainability and the "throwaway" culture. The Washington Post reports that some Millennials eschew cereal at home (as easy as cereal may be to eat) because cleaning the bowl and spoon takes time out of a busy schedule. However, that same generation is the one driving the QSR industry to focus on nutrition and sustainability, to reevaluate menu offerings, breakfast hours and delivery systems. Those of us involved in the supply chain realize that growing public sentiment requires a renewed commitment to those principles. It is Millennials, after all, who are now growing into their buying power.
If we "are what we eat," why not work together to make what we eat the best it can be as well as making it as convenient as possible to obtain and consume? That is the recipe leading to a higher breakfast market share.