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Why McDonald's Still Dominates Fast-Food Breakfast

In recent years, every fast-food chain in America has been trying to get a piece of McDonald's (MCD) breakfast business. A new study shows for the most part, it's not working.

As reported by MediaPost's blog Marketing Daily, the study from Scarborough Research shows McDonald's is still off and away the most popular place to stop for a fast breakfast. Of the roughly one-third of U.S. adults who have eaten breakfast at a fast-food chain in the past month, almost half have visited McDonald's. The next-closest competitors are Starbucks (SBUX) and Dunkin' Donuts (DD) at 19 percent each. It's just no contest.

The fast feeders are all jumping into breakfast -- most recently, Subway and Taco Bell. Others keep tinkering with their breakfast menus, trying to hit the winning formula. J in the B added whole-grain breakfast pitas this month, for instance.

Why has McDonald's been able to keep its dominant position despite the stiff competition? Three reasons:

First-mover advantage. McDonald's created this category when it introduced the Egg McMuffin back in 1970. They got consumers thinking McDonald's for breakfast before competitors knew what hit them. The consistency of the experience keeps customers coming back. Every other chain has an uphill battle to break customers' entrenched breakfast-out patterns to get them to try their morning fare. Starbucks has gotten a decent slice of the audience in a fairly short time by going after a completely different breakfast customer. Woe betide anyone who's trying to compete with McDonald's head-on.

Iconic food. Whole generations of Americans probably see a picture of an Egg McMuffin in their minds if they think "fast-food breakfast." While many have tried, no other chain has created a signature breakfast item that has entered the public consciousness in the same way. Egg McMuffin simply means breakfast at McDonald's. And breakfast at Starbucks or Subway means...what? No other chain has formed such a strong association between their brand and a breakfast item.

Working-man's menu. McDonald's kept adding to its breakfast lineup over the years, which now has 20 different items. The breakfast menu also really knows its audience -- young males who need to pay little and eat while they drive. There's nothing frou-frou or light here -- it's potatoes, proteins, pancakes and a muffin, wrap or bagel to hold it. Period. They're not serving up what they wish America would eat when they crave a fast-food breakfast -- hello, whole-wheat pitas? -- but what America really does eat. Public-health critics may not like how many calories these gut-bombs contain, but it's McDonald's breakfast food that has consumers lined up at the drive-up window.

Photo via Flickr user seamus_walsh
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