A Whopper at 8 A.M. Isn't the Answer, Burger King

whoppers at breakfast isn't the answer for burger king
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
It's apparently never too early to have a hamburger. While most chains wait until 10 or 11 a.m. to begin offering their signature burgers, early risers will be able to skip straight to lunch at thousands of participating Burger King (BKW) locations. The fast food giant's betting that some morning commuters want more than just a breakfast burrito or a ham and egg sandwich for breakfast. Later this month Burger King is rolling out a "burgers for breakfast" campaign across 5,000 of its restaurants, offering its signature Whopper as well as a few other burgers and chicken sandwiches in the morning. Assuming that you don't want hash browns on the side, fries will also be made available. So will apple pie.

Whopper, BK King and Original Fried Chicken sandwiches will be part of the chain's breakfast offerings. Will it confuse diners? Will the move complicate matters for employees manning the prep tables and fryers? Will the great variety stall patrons as they ponder the menu when it's time to order, creating longer wait times for food?

The questions won't be answered right away, but Burger King doesn't have much of a choice. Breakfast is big business, and chains have to stand out one way or another.

Another Shot in the Battle for Breakfast

It isn't easy to make a difference in the morning. Just ask Wendy's (WEN), which has already retreated twice from the national breakfast market over the past decade. The first time it thought that it could set itself apart by offering sausage gravy-soaked biscuits and breakfast versions of its then-popular Frescata sandwiches. More recently it tried to stick closer to the McDonald's (MCD) playbook with oatmeal, breakfast burritos and biscuit sandwiches. That didn't pan out either, and last year it discontinued breakfast at all but less than 10 percent of its restaurants.

It's not just the burger flippers hoping to woo diners with caffeinated mornings. Subway -- the world's largest restaurant chain based on the number of locations -- got into the game four years ago with by offering eggy sandwiches for breakfast.

The latest unlikely player is Yum Brands' (YUM) Taco Bell. It rolled out its morning menu in late March, quickly following that up with two ads targeting niche leader McDonald's.

Everyone's Chasing Ronald

McDonald's owns breakfast, and that's a challenge for any quick-service chain hoping to extend its operating day by opening in the morning. Burger King has been taking notes in the past, ripping off many of the chain's most popular items down to a near replica of McDonald's flagship Egg McMuffin sandwich. Smoothies, oatmeal and caramel frappes were all introduced at McDonald's before Burger King got in on the fun.

Burger King could've gone the Taco Bell route. The Waffle Taco and A.M. Crunchwrap are unique items that one can only get at the country's largest burrito roller. Instead we're seeing Burger King trying to stand out by serving some of its lunch options a couple of hours earlier in the day.

Will it be enough? Selling parents driving their kids to school or commuters heading out to work on the merits of a Whopper at 9 a.m. won't be easy. Some of these items can get messy for distracted drivers. It will be incremental, and that's the point. As long as it doesn't slow up the drive-thru queue, this will help grow Burger King's business. But it may come at the expense of losing its breakfast identity.

The ideal solution is to follow Taco Bell into unique items that sound more outrageous than they actually taste. Burger King's breakfast menu isn't a photocopy of what McDonald's is doing. It does have a few items -- including croissant sandwiches and French toast sticks -- that were popularized there.

That's probably where the chain's emphasis should remain. Make breakfast better. Don't just make lunch earlier. Hungry morning drivers will have the final say in this breakfast battle. They always do.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Burger King Worldwide and McDonald's.

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