Breakfast by the Brand

How a roast-beef-sandwich chain built a breakfast menu

Karen Weisberg, Freelance writer

The battle for breakfast dominance continues as all channels of foodservice vie to steal share of a.m. sales. Among retail foodservice channels, c-stores dominate with 41% of retail-foodservice shoppers buying breakfast at these locations at least once per month, according to Chicago-based Technomic. Other retailers have gained share in the last two years, particularly traditional supermarkets and even mass merchandisers.

One hurdle for a foodservice operation entering the breakfast day-part is opening the menu to new items in a way that makes sense for the brand and the market. For one Arby's franchisee, that means some unexpected additions.

[image-nocss]The Restaurant Company, an independent Arby's franchisee with 19 units in the Richmond, Va., area, offers breakfast in just one of its locations. "We used to have breakfast in all 19 locations, but labor costs and the slow economy precluded us from being open at breakfast," says marketing director Nel Bockelman.

The one Arby's that does "do" breakfast is located within The James Center, a high-rise within the city's financial district. "We serve as a test partner for the brand, so about 75% of our menu follows Arby's national brand for breakfast," Bockelman explains.

The top-seller here is biscuit with sausage ($1.69), with biscuit with egg and cheese ($2.69) in second place followed by biscuit with chicken (a breaded tender, pictured here, $2.59). All items are made to order--no chutes, heat lamps or heated cabinets.

Richmond may be a Southern city, where the popularity of chicken is legendary, but sales of chicken breakfast items are "growing very slowly," Bockelman says, "even though it's seen as 'healthier' and 'lighter,' especially among females." There's also little demand for grits (another Southern staple), so it's not menued.

Meanwhile, sales of prepared-to-order gourmet oatmeal ($3.29 per bowl) are strong. Customers have a choice of flavors including maple delight, apple craisin crunch or French berry trio (blueberries, strawberries and raspberries).

"Oatmeal sales started slowly, but when it got cold, we sold about 30 portions of each flavor per week," Bockelman recalls. "We're not big discounters, but we do some promos and if 'Andrew,' the meteorologist on Arby's Weathernet for Central Virginia (of which Arby's is a sponsor), predicts freezing temperatures or below, we tweet about it and put it on Facebook and give out free three- to four-ounce portions of oatmeal from 7 to 10 a.m."

There's a similar frozen lemonade promo from June through August if Andrew predicts temperatures of 95 degrees and above. "It's free to the first 95 customers in the door, breakfast time included," Bockelman says.

Arby's Richmond takes pride in offering healthier options. "All our eggs are from cage-free chickens and our beef [comes from] grass-fed [cows]--for no extra charge. We even have a little wire chicken-shaped basket full of eggs on the counter with a sign that says, 'Cage-Free Eggs,' " Bockelman says.

Bockelman, who personally chooses to eat chicken whenever she has the option, is now very excited about turkey as a menu item. "We introduced turkey sandwiches, turkey burgers and turkey tenderloin chunks last year for other day-parts and they're selling very well. We're on a mission with turkey; people love it. Chicken is menued for breakfast; why not turkey down the road?"

For more breakfast innovations, watch for the April issue of Fare magazine.