Fast feeders get more inventive

August 12, 2013

Fierce competition drives a reshaping of menus and identity.

At three of the nation’s fast feeders—McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Taco Bell—menu changes reflect the channel’s new meal thinking to drive traffic. More inventiveness and more food availability in the wee hours (presumably for shift workers, insomniacs, snackers, and the post-club drinking crowd) aim to build productivity outside of traditional meal times.

Some of McDonald’s 24-hour restaurants, for instance, will offer limited dinner and breakfast items—Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, Egg McMuffins and hot cakes, along with beverages and desserts—on its After Midnight menu, states USA Today, which also reports that most Jack in the Box and Sonic restaurants serve breakfast all day.

The Lempert Report feels breakfast items could yield higher margins and faster seat turnover—both important to fast feeders that have met resistance to rising prices. The average time spent eating breakfast is 13 minutes, says NPD Group, according to an Ad Age account that also says McDonald’s is considering offering breakfast all day.

Meanwhile, Wendy’s new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger could start to differentiate the chain at a higher end of the burger scale than, say, McDonald’s or Burger King.  It was enough to turn some Wall Street analysts into believers that a turnaround is underway. This limited-time offer is the operator’s second this year to use premium bread as a marker of change; earlier it offered a Grilled Chicken Flatbread sandwich.

Pretzel breads were brought to the U.S. by Austrian chef Hans Rockenwagner at 3 Square Café in Santa Monica, CA, near The Lempert Report office. If these breads have less sugar in them than white bread, it would be a boon because restaurateurs could emphasize the health aspect as well as taste.

For its part, Taco Bell wants to focus on Millennials—with more protein, less fat, taste novelties, and fewer young kids in their dining space.  This means several initiatives:

  • A summertime test of four chicken and steak dishes in Dayton, Ohio with more than 20 grams of protein and less than 450 calories, priced between $3.59 and $5.19, reports Ad Age.
  • A sausage and scrambled egg inside of a taco-shaped waffle for 89 cents.
  • The elimination of kids meals and toys at the chain this coming winter.  Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed told USA Today these meals account for half of 1% of the chain’s overall sales, and “it’s fairly inconsistent for an edgy, twenty-something brand to offer kids meals.”

The Lempert Report sees multiple reasons for these kinds of changes.  Among them: better competition for low-cost ready-to-eat food trips coming from convenience stores, drug stores and supermarkets—as well as low-priced offerings from casual dining chains, sandwich shops, and neighborhood independent pizza, deli and self-serve frozen yogurt shops.  America is an increasingly saturated landscape of prepared food purveyors.  With our on-the-go lifestyles and common inability to curb cravings, it takes more inventiveness from fast feeders today to draw from any distance.