March 2, 2020, marked a momentous occasion for Wendy’s: it was the day the chain finally introduced its long-hyped, brand-new breakfast menu. It featured a little something for everyone: the Breakfast Baconator (of course), a breakfast burrito, an oatmeal bar, and a Frosty-ccino, to name just a few items on the list. In retrospect, it’s clear just how disastrous a March 2 launch date for any new fast food innovation could have been, given that the world swiftly shut down about a week later. But in fact, breakfast ended up driving Wendy’s business during the darkest times. The fast food giant’s marketing team recently spoke with the media in a virtual presentation about how Wendy’s was able to weather the storm—here are a few takeaways.
“I vividly remember conversations about whether we wanted to launch in February or March, because of the weather,” said Carl Loredo, the chief marketing officer for Wendy’s. “As it turned out, the weather had far less impact on the launch of breakfast as we got started.”
The initial idea had been to brag about how much better Wendy’s breakfast was than McDonald’s or elsewhere—“We started with the idea of saving consumers from folded egg sandwiches that were being served in the marketplace,” Loredo said—but when the pandemic hit, there was a different way to sell people on this stuff. Suddenly it wasn’t about being better than the competition, it was about being better than whatever “boring toast or soggy cereal” consumers had available to them at home.
“Our breakfast is a bright spot in the day,” said John Li, vice president of culinary innovation for Wendy’s.
Digital and mobile ordering became a huge part of Wendy’s operations post-pandemic, with larger order sizes and higher checks becoming the norm (presumably because people were ordering for a whole family/household rather than just themselves as they commuted to work, but Wendy’s didn’t specify). Also, since weekday morning commuters were not rushing into an office anymore, the timing of breakfast as a concept took on more of a weekend vibe: “We had geared up to get going at 6:30 [A.M.], but then the time period for breakfast began to shift later and later,” said Loredo. And hey, if you’re not on your way somewhere, why bother getting into the car to pick it up yourself? This was apparently the thinking behind Wendy’s decision to work with more delivery partners, shuttling breakfast right to consumers’ doorsteps in the morning.
Wendy’s, as we all know, has a bratty social media presence that taunts, mocks, and, uh... chillaxes its way into users’ hearts (or onto their block lists). As Loredo put it, “Our not-so-secret superpower is social.”
But “social” can encompass a lot more than Instagram and Twitter. Twitch, the video livestreaming gamer haven, has become a crucial way that Wendy’s connects with The Youths in times of COVID. How? Oh god, please don’t ask me to explain it. Basically Twitch streams host little mid-stream ads and promos for Wendy’s breakfast menu items, and the Wendy’s social team interacts with viewers in the chat.... please, I beg you, do not ask any follow-up questions here. Just take it from Loredo:
There’s been this huge influx of folks watching gaming, getting involved in gaming. Making sure we could engage in that—the work we had done in Fortnite set us up to be successful, then shifting into Animal Crossing and MarioKart. [These were] the different ways we got engaged in the gaming community, did it in an authentic way, and we were able to talk about breakfast in that space as well.
“We are the king of bacon,” Li declared. “We sell the most bacon cheeseburgers of anybody in the business.” Indeed, the entire breakfast menu was built around opportunities to incorporate more of this thick-cut, applewood-smoked market differentiator into each offering, and to make it the star. Seems like “BACON!” is a formula that works, too: men 18-35 are dedicated to the Baconator, and customers 55 and older enjoy the Bacon, Egg & Swiss Croissant.
(As far as what menu items other generations enjoy, Millennials are buying up the Frosty-ccino, and Gen X goes for the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit.)
So, there you have it: an assemblage of nimble marketing tactics and porky flavor profiles have kept Wendy’s awash in breakfasty success. If you’ve been enjoying any particular fast food breakfast combos lately, let us know in the comments—just don’t try to explain to me how Twitch works.