The casual-dining sector has been limping through the recession with abysmal same-store sales while fast-feeders are posting gains. Summer has been particularly difficult; UBS analyst David Palmer commented in a recent note that in July most fast-feeders' sales tended to go up while their pricier rivals slipped as consumers traded down to lower-priced options. Same-store sales fell more than 10% in Ruby Tuesday's most recent quarter, while McDonald's posted 4% U.S. same-store sales growth in July alone.
Jack in the Box is touting its new "Breakfast Bowl," an allegedly portable, full-breakfast conglomeration of eggs, hash browns, peppers and meat as a "Sunday-brunch-worthy meal" that can be "enjoyed on a weekday schedule." That is, without the mimosa.
'Breakfast anytime, anywhere'
"Breakfast is the most important meal of day, but fewer and fewer people have time in the morning to sit down and eat," Teka O'Rourke, director-menu marketing and promotions for Jack in the Box, said in a press release announcing the launch. "Our new Breakfast Bowls are easy to pick up and transport, so you can enjoy a satisfying breakfast anytime, anywhere."
Jack's Hearty Breakfast Bowl features scrambled eggs, hash-brown sticks, white-cheddar-cheese sauce and shredded cheddar cheese. The Denver Breakfast Bowl adds ham and bell peppers.
Darren Tristano, exec VP of restaurant consultant Technomic, noted that consumers generally value convenience, price and portability over all else for weekday breakfast. Priorities flip on the weekends, he said, when "people are willing to spend more time, pay higher prices and enjoy the occasion."
While this could appeal to consumers looking to trade down from casual dining chains in the recession, Mr. Tristano said the bowls might be a tough sell to the so-called dashboard diners.
"These are people [who when they are] eating with one hand, the wheel in the other hand and a phone wedged against their ear, they're in heaven," he said. "This is an opportunity to satisfy a different type of occasion."
Denny's fights back
With what Technomic values at $54 billion U.S. breakfast market at stake, some casual-dining chains have instituted programs to combat leeching from fast-food rivals. Denny's has started selling breakfast to go. The pilot product is a two-tier carryout contraption with eggs and bacon on the bottom and pancakes on the top, so the pancakes can stay fluffy, protected from the steamy protein below.
McDonald's, the fast-food breakfast giant with 28% its sales coming from that time of day (and share of nearly 15% of total U.S. breakfast sales), has focused its efforts on portable breakfasts, such as the McSkillet burrito and the Southern-style chicken biscuit. The chain won't comment on whether it has marketing support planned for its big breakfasts.
Jack in the Box's agency is Secret Weapon, Santa Monica, and Publicis Mid America, Dallas, handles Denny's.