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Fast Food’s ‘Breakfast Wars’ Have Turned Into a Weak Spot During the Pandemic

Plus, Instacart scammers are manipulating orders, and other news to start the day

Hands holding a McMuffin over a tray of McDonald’s breakfast and coffee.
McDonald’s, like many other fast-food chains, is seeing a breakfast slump.
Photo: AngieYeoh/Shutterstock

Fast-food chains are having trouble selling breakfast as people stay at home

Just a few months ago, it seemed like every other fast-food chain was ramping up for what some were calling the “breakfast wars.” Now, as much of the country is staying home, breakfast is “one of the industry’s worst-performing segments,” CNN reports.

With fewer customers out on the road, heading to work, or going through drive-thrus, breakfast sales have plummeted at chains like McDonald’s, Tim Hortons, and Taco Bell, Business Insider reports. The first meal of the day is “an easy meal to replace yourself if you’re doing your own cooking now,” IHOP president Jay Johns said on a recent call about the diner chain’s financial state, according to CNN.

One exception in the bleak fast-food breakfast landscape is Wendy’s. Per Business Insider, Wendy’s saw success from aggressively promoting its nationwide breakfast rollout in early March, before cities and states began ordering people to shelter in place amid the coronavirus pandemic. The breakfast-related boost — to the tune of a 16 percent increase in same-store sales during launch week — helped Wendy’s cushion the slump in sales that fast-food chains and other restaurants saw in late March, with the morning offering making up 8 percent of Wendy’s sales and already proving profitable.

For other chains, breakfast is still a long-term bet, despite the current slump. “As we start to really get into the recovery phase, getting back that breakfast business is going to be critical for us,” McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said on the company’s first-quarter analyst call. CNN notes that these bigger chains may also benefit from smaller, independent restaurants not surviving the pandemic. As the local coffee shop goes out of business, places like McDonald’s and Starbucks will still be there, able to outlast all the rest.

And in other news…

  • It’s boom time for metal can producers, as demand for canned beans and other packaged foods rises. [NYT]
  • Scammers are running programs that intercept delivery jobs on Instacart, preventing those orders from being fulfilled by other workers unless they pay to get priority access. [WSB-TV Atlanta]
  • Dunkin’ joins the list of chains finding creative ways to sell its food — in this case, hawking DIY doughnut decorating kits for customers to take home. [Insider]
  • A man in Modesto, California, took his wine to-go by drinking bulk red wine straight from the underside valve of a moving tanker truck. [CBS Sacramento]

All AM Intel Coverage [E]

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