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Wendy's testing breakfast menu

People eat in a Wendy's in New York City

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Kai Ryssdal: If you find yourself running late in the mornings and you want to grab a quick bite to eat on the way to work, you've got no shortage of choices: Your local coffee shop or a donut place, or, of course, fast food. Sixty percent of that industry's growth the past five years has come from the morning rush. Notably absent -- up 'til now -- from the usual menu of Burger King and McDonald's, though -- has been Wendy's.

Peter O'Dowd reports from KJZZ in Phoenix.


Peter O'Dowd: Karen Huff just cracked an egg over a griddle. It spreads out and sizzles while she sprinkles it with sea salt.

Karen Huff: And then we're going to break the yolk and just kinda let the whites set up.

It's just after 8 o'clock, and cracking an egg at this time is not terribly surprising until you learn that Huff is the manager of a fast food restaurant. No more liquid yolks out of a carton -- Wendy's has gone upscale.

Ken Calwell: While there's a lot of people doing breakfast right now, there's not very many of them who are doing it well.

Count the folks at Wendy's among them, according to Ken Calwell, the company's chief marketing officer.

Calwell: Wendy's has tested breakfast twice in our past in major efforts. Both of those failed.

Calwell says past efforts failed, because the food took too long to make. And it didn't taste good enough. This time around, they'll try a new menu with toasted egg sandwiches, paninis, smoked bacon and fresh orange juice. You can find those items right now in three test cities, including Phoenix. Calwell says all 6,300 Wendy's nationwide could offer the menu by the end of next year. But he says a big challenge will be convincing Wendy's owners to open early.

Calwell: That's a cost to a franchisee, so what you have to show through your test market results is that the sales and profitability make it worth it.

Other chains have seen the value in breakfast. Subway has rolled out a morning menu. Even Taco Bell has jumped in with breakfast burritos. Morningstar Analyst Joscelyn MacKay says it's about time Wendy's made the move.

Joscelyn MacKay: Being in the breakfast day part for any quick-service restaurant right now is going to be the key to driving your sales forward especially as we're still languishing in the doldrums of a weak economy.

Analysts estimate up to a quarter of all fast food sales come in the breakfast rush. MacKay says Wendy's will lag behind competitors like McDonald's if it cannot crack into that morning market.

MacKay: To be successful in this arena, they need to have a very compelling offering. It needs to be different than what's already out there.

Wendy's employee: Stir the chili please!

Back at the Wendy's drive-thru in Phoenix, there is some indication the new menu is resonating with customers like Ana Franco.

Ana Franco: I really like it. It's really good.

O'Dowd: And what did you order today?

Franco: The fire roasted burrito, and then just orange juice.

Franco gives the cashier about $4, a bit less than she typical spends on breakfast at Jack in the Box. Before she drives off to work, Franco says she'll be back later in the week, and that's exactly what Wendy's needs to hear.

Wendy's cashier: There you go. Thank you. You have a good day.

Franco: You too. Bye!

In Phoenix, I'm Peter O'Dowd for Marketplace.

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