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Fast-food makers turn to lunch bunch for additions to breakfast menu

USA Today, December 13, 2004

Fast-food lovers finally are about to get what many crave most for breakfast: lunch.

As in a Breakfast Burger.

Not with lettuce and tomato, but with a fried egg and ketchup. Carl's Jr., the fast-food chain that loves to thumb its nose at political correctness, this week will unveil the burger.

The national trend toward lunch at breakfast is clear. About 12.5% of fast-food diners ordered burgers for breakfast in 2004, compared with 7.5% in 2003, reports Sandelman & Associates, a restaurant consulting firm. In trend-setting Southern California, 17.6% of fast-food breakfast eaters got burgers this year.

It's not just burgers. Chick-fil-A soon will roll out tiny chicken breakfast sandwich packs. Sonic Drive-In serves its full menu all day -- even selling Extra-Long Cheese Coneys at breakfast. Coca-Cola makes a killing as a breakfast drink.

The lure of lunch items at breakfast is being driven, in part, by a 24/7 workforce that wants to begin or end the workday -- even at 6 a.m. -- with a real meal. "Some people don't want eggs, pancakes and French toast for breakfast," consultant Bob Sandelman says.

A new generation of eaters refuses to adopt its parents' dining habits. About 40% of Carl's breakfast sales are conventional burgers. A burger at breakfast "can seem like a cool thing," Sandelman says.

But not like health food. The new burger has 830 calories, 275 milligrams of cholesterol and 46 grams of fat.

"If you're overweight or have health issues, this probably isn't the breakfast for you," says Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, whose Hardee's chain is taking heat for its 1,420-calorie Monster Burger.

"But some people eat a big, strong breakfast and burn it off throughout the day," he says.

Nutritionist Robyn Flipse says eating lunch for breakfast is fine -- so long as the overall daily diet is nutritionally balanced.

Even then, she says, because of its nutritional situation, Carl's Breakfast Burger "is a lousy choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner."

Others doing lunch for breakfast:

  • Chick-fil-A. Next month, the chain will introduce lunch like items for breakfast: Chick-n-Minis (dinner rolls with honey butter and chicken) and Chicken Breakfast Bagels (chicken and cheese).

"It's a strange, new world on menus," says Woody Faulk, brand development chief. "The old rules are falling one by one."

  • Sonic. This year, Sonic Drive-In began to open for breakfast at most of its 2,900 restaurants nationally, and executives discovered that 36% of food sales before 11 a.m. are still non-breakfast items.

"We sell plenty of hot dogs in the morning," CEO Cliff Hudson says. To be specific, 2% of breakfast sales are hot dogs; 2% ice cream.

  • Coca-Cola. At big burger chains, Coca-Cola's morning soft-drink sales have overtaken coffee sales, spokesman Ray Crockett says. Coffee is 20% of morning beverage sales, soft drinks are 30%.