On the foodservice battleground, the chicken sandwich wars are now giving way to … the French Toast Stick Wars.
Wendy’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, and Sonic are all offering French toast sticks now, indicating that, in 2022, breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day for these chains.
As society emerges from the waning COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants clearly view breakfast as a prime time to engage customers.
Inflation, of course, has also been tough on all forms of restaurants, and the rising costs they’re forced to pass along to customers has made it tough for many Americans to be able to afford dining out like they once did. Overall restaurant traffic declined 2% in the second quarter from a year ago, as noted by CNBC (Aug. 27), but dining out for breakfast and morning snacks remained unchanged.
So, while many chains are getting by with cutting menu items, hours and staff, others are seeing an untapped opportunity to expand breakfast offerings.
“We’re actually seeing this big recovery in full-service breakfast,” noted R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at Placer.ai, during a recent Food Institute webinar. “Some breakfast-first concepts, like First Watch and Waffle House, if you look at second quarter traffic, were making a big comeback.”
And, Hottovy added, “the top five chains that we saw in terms of visitation trends and (in the) full-service space, three of them are breakfast-focused chains. So, (we’re seeing) some real demand.”
THE FORGOTTEN MEAL
Possibly due to it being early in the morning, breakfast traditionally lags lunch and dinner in popularity for most consumers.
Breakfast accounts for 20% of restaurant transactions and 13% of total fast-food sales, CNBC noted. That was especially the case earlier in the pandemic; With no need to get up and moving early to get to work, less and less consumers grabbed breakfast and instead opted to eat at home, as sales for breakfast items at the grocery store rose.
EMERGING BREAKFAST TRENDS
In 2019, breakfast was becoming more popular with patrons. Fast-food chains were either adding or expanding breakfast menus. Then, the pandemic hit and breakfast saw the sharpest decline in sales of any meal.
Now, with people headed back to office work environments, savvy restaurateurs are taking advantage by marketing expanded breakfast offerings, which is showcased in the brewing French toast stick battle.
“[Fast-food chains] especially are really innovating around new menu items to try and capture those incremental sales as consumers start to return to the breakfast daypart within restaurants,” Technomic principal David Henkes told CNBC.
Total spending was up 32% for the year ended June 12 compared to 2019 levels for quick-serve eateries, which includes fast food and coffee shops.
“Now that we’re getting back to more normalized behaviors, we’re really just returning to the oldest trend where breakfast was generally outpacing the growth of other dayparts,” David Portalatin, NPD’s food and beverage analyst, told CNBC.
KEY FACTOR AT PLAY
With the rising cost of food and people cutting back on dining out, why exactly is breakfast thriving?
For starters, breakfast tends to be cheaper than going out for lunch or dinner. Grabbing a cup of coffee and a scone on the way to work is typically a rather cheap endeavor. It’s a more affordable indulgence that allows consumers to nevertheless treat themselves.
So, now for the real question… where will you be getting your French toast?