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Fast-food breakfasts aren’t selling right now — except for Wendy’s

Why are sales for Wendy’s breakfasts thriving while other fast-food chains’ aren’t?

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FILE- This Feb. 23, 2018, file photo shows a Wendy’s restaurant in Pittsburgh. Wendy’s Co. on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 reported fourth-quarter net income of $18.8 million. On a per-share basis, the Dublin, Ohio-based company said it had net income of 8 cen

This Feb. 23, 2018 file photo shows a Wendy’s restaurant in Pittsburgh. The fast-food chain has experienced recent success with its new breakfast menu while breakfast menus from other fast-food chains have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press

When there’s no morning commute, there’s a lot less drive-thru breakfast.

The nation’s largest fast-food chains are reporting slumping sales for the first quarter of 2020, according to recent earnings calls with investors. And, it seems, breakfast is the meal that’s been hit hardest. Chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have experienced disproportionate decreases for its breakfast menus, CNN reported.

While this slump wasn’t surprising — COVID-19 shutdowns have decimated America’s economy and forced many food service employees into unemployment — one fast-food chain is bucking the trend when it comes to breakfast: Wendy’s.

According to a recent report by Business Insider, the new breakfast menu at Wendy’s now makes up 8% of the company’s total sales — within the range the company hoped to reach by the end of 2020. While that might seem meager compared to McDonald’s, whose breakfast menu normally comprises 40% of its total sales, it’s undoubtedly a strong start for Wendy’s, which has never done well in the breakfast space.

Wendy’s launched its heavily publicized new breakfast menu on March 2, a week before nationwide shutdowns began taking effect. It caused a “breakfast war” of sorts between Wendy’s and McDonald’s, as McDonald’s tried counteracting the Wendy’s launch by declaring March 2 National Egg McMuffin Day. The Wendy’s breakfast menu increased the company’s same-store sales by 16% during that first week. Business Insider reported that after a late March slump, Wendy’s has nearly recovered, with same-store sales down only 2% in the most recent week. 

Wendy’s has reportedly shifted much of its breakfast marketing budget to other areas, while reducing the number of employees during its morning shifts. The company says these changes have already made its breakfast business profitable.

QSR Magazine, which reports on quick-service and fast-casual restaurants, reported that traditional fast-food outlets have been hit harder recently than large coffee chains like Dunkin’ and Starbucks, when comparing the current daily visits with daily visits from this same time last year.

As fast-food breakfast sales have generally decreased, other breakfast sectors have boomed. PepsiCo, which owns the Quaker Oats Company, reported significant increases in Quaker’s sales recently.

“The number of families that have bought Quaker in the last six weeks has gone up a lot. ... There’s one clear reason, right?” PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta recently said. “People are cooking at home and therefore they’re using the product more.”