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Wendy's defied the odds and successfully launched breakfast during the coronavirus pandemic, creating a massive new problem for fast-food rivals like McDonald's and Taco Bell

Wendy's chicken biscuit

  • Wendy's breakfast sales now make up 8% of the company's business, despite the chain launching its breakfast menu in early March — right before the coronavirus pandemic sent sales plummeting. 
  • Fast-food rivals including McDonald's and Taco Bell said that breakfast sales were hit hardest during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • "While the environment we encountered when we started breakfast was not what anyone would have expected, the strength of our program makes this day part a key bright spot," said Wendy's CEO Todd Penegor.
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When Wendy's decided to roll out breakfast the first week of March 2020, executives had no way of knowing that they picked what would become one of the most difficult months for restaurants in American history. 

Fast-food chains including McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Burger King saw sales plummet by 20% to 35% in the last two weeks of March. On Wednesday, Wendy's reported that its same-store sales were down 29% in the last week of March, as states rolled out shelter-in-place orders. 

Breakfast sales have been hit particularly hard, according to executives at McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Tim Hortons. With more people eating breakfast at home and the complete disruption of customers' morning routines, Taco Bell even stopped serving breakfast at some locations. 

Despite this, Wendy's executives said in a call with investors on Wednesday that breakfast now makes up 8% of its total sales, within the range the company had said it hoped to reach by the end of 2020 with a successful launch. 

Wendy's Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit

"While the environment we encountered when we started breakfast was not what anyone would have expected, the strength of our program makes this daypart a key bright spot for us," CEO Todd Penegor said. 

Penegor added: "We continue to remain encouraged by the performance, and remain fully committed to bringing America the breakfast it deserves during this difficult time."

Breakfast's immediate popularity helped boost same-store sales to 16% the week it launched. Wendy's sales have recovered since the late March slump, with same-store sales down 2% in the most recent week. 

During the pandemic, Wendy's reworked its breakfast strategy, cutting marketing and reducing the number of employees needed for the morning shift. As a result, the company said the breakfast business is already profitable. 

Wendy's Breakfast sausage egg and cheese biscuit

As McDonald's and Taco Bell attempt to rebuild their breakfast business, the chains will now have to compete with Wendy's. Before the coronavirus pandemic, experts expected fast-food chains with established breakfast menus to do whatever it took to prevent Wendy's breakfast success. On the day Wendy's launched breakfast, for example, McDonald's gave away free McMuffins. 

McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski said last week that the company plans to be "aggressive" to rebuild breakfast sales, which he called critical to the company's recovery. 

"It takes time," Kempczinski said on a call with investors. "It's a disruption to routines. Reestablishing those routines takes time"

McDonald's will still control the all-day breakfast market, when it decides to once again start serving McMuffins and McGriddles throughout the day. Wendy's executives said on Wednesday that the chain has no plans to add breakfast items to the menu for the rest of the day. 

SEE ALSO: The coronavirus pandemic demolished breakfast sales at fast-food giants like McDonald's and Taco Bell

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