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KAI RYSSDAL: Breakfast, we are told, is the most important meal of the day. Plenty of us take that to heart, even if it often means grabbing something on the way to work. McDonald's said today our on-the-go habits are part of the reason U.S. sales were up more than 4 percent over the same time last year. The rest of the world looks even better -- a 10 percent gain in Europe, higher still in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It wasn't so long ago McDonald's was suffering for being on the unfashionably unhealthy end of the food pyramid. But their fortunes have changed along with their menus. Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.
ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: After all, you need a coffee with that Egg McMuffin. Sarah Lockyer is financial editor at Nation's Restaurant News. She says since McDonald's started touting its premium coffee, sales have been stellar. And the chain is poised to introduce new equipment into its stores that could bring customers the McLatte.
Sarah Lockyer: And they're projecting to get an extra $1 billion in incremental sales. That would be on top of everything else that they're hoping to get strictly from espresso beverage rollouts.
Newer menu items like Snack Wraps have also boosted sales. As has late-night or round-the-clock opening. Lockyer says McDonald's has won customers outside the U.S. with some pretty basic changes. She says the atmosphere and decor in foreign outlets used to leave much to be desired. But things have improved.
LOCKYER: Less of the plastic chairs that you used to see bolted to the floor back in the day, better crew uniforms, making sure the bathrooms are clean.
McDonald's isn't the only fast-food chain polishing its image with customers and investors. David Henkes is with Technomic Incorporated, a food industry research firm.
David Henkes: They're clearly outperforming fast food as a whole. But fast food in general is doing pretty good. It's really appealing right now to consumers' need for value, for convenience, for on-the-go food.
He says there is evidence that consumers are swapping visits to pricier restaurants for a trip to a fast-food joint. And for those who are feeling squeezed, he says McDonald's seems to offer a better combination of taste and value than its competitors.
In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.