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Food Fight: Burger King's Upscale New Breakfast vs. Its Blue-Collar Ads

Burger King (BKC) is stepping up the fast-food breakfast wars with an upscale array of new offerings aimed at growing its morning fare beyond the $1 menu level. But the food the company has come up with is complicated and a bit snobby.

It's not clear stores can execute all the items, or that customers will be interested. Which is too bad, because BK is under new ownership and has a new CEO, 40-year-old Brazilian Bernando Hees, whose background is in transportation, not restaurants. So it may be a while before we see this kind of creativity encouraged again.

The pretentiousness begins with the Breakfast Ciabatta Club sandwich seen at right. One one level it's the usual fast-food American breakfast (namely, four kinds of protein on some kind of bread). But then the contradictions begin. The Italian Ciabatta bread broadcasts "fancy," while the eggs, in most stores are...microwaved. Yuck.

Same goes for the BK Breakfast Bowl, which packs in peppers, sausage, potatoes, three kinds of cheese plus cheese sauce (!), and those same microwaved eggs. Only a small proportion of restaurants in the chain yet have the special griddle that can be added to its fryer equipment to scramble eggs the way nature intended, Nation's Restaurant News reports.

Might have been smart to wait until critical mass was achieved on that before launching this breakfast line. The fact that restaurants aren't ready may signal discontent among franchise owners over the plan to make their breakfasts more complicated and difficult to execute. Owners were already steamed about advertising that focused on $1 items they lost money selling.

Given that, you'd think they'd support the higher-priced new items. That franchisees haven't done so isn't a good sign that they think their customers will take to the food. Or maybe they just think their customers won't notice the difference.

On the plus side, the new Mini Blueberry Biscuits with dipping icing look like an instant hit. But they're $1, so they don't move the needle on price.

The positioning of this food as a better breakfast for which patrons might pay up to $4.29 -- in the case of the gut-bombing, 1,310-calorie BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter of eggs, pancakes, biscuit, sausage and potatoes -- is at odds with the ad campaign the company recently unleashed to support the launch. In it, a variety of mostly blue-collar workers join up and march down the street to check out the new breakfast menu. If they were looking to appeal to new audience segments with the breakfast introductions, the campaign doesn't reinforce that.

Given that Burger King is calling this its biggest menu expansion in ages, you'd think the new breakfast items and the marketing would be better coordinated. In the past year, Burger King's new menu items have been all over the place, from the nasty-sounding giant pizza burger to $1 cheeseburgers to the wildly successful but badly planned $8 rib meal. BK faces the challenge of figuring out what its brand primarily stands for, which is going to be hard to do under a chief who's focused on railroad schedules.

Lest you think the slapped-together feel of the project might have to do with breakfast not being so important to Burger King, know that breakfast is what it's all about these days in fast food. The NPD Group recently identified breakfast as seeing the most growth of any meal segment in the industry.

Competition is intense, McDonald's (MCD) continues to dominate the morning, and the quest at BK for a signature item a la Egg McMuffin -- one that makes customers closely identify your chain with the morning meal -- continues. None of these new items seem like they have that potential.

But they may find some fans. NRN food reporter Bret Thorn, who attended BK's breakfast debut event in New York, reports, "I truly thought the Ciabatta Breakfast Club was delicious."


Photo of Breakfast Ciabatta Club sandwich courtesy of Burger King; Photo of BK breakfast bowl by Bret Thorn of Nation's Restaurant News;