Breakfast has emerged as the newest fast food battleground behind Taco Bell's introduction of the morning menu, which has been promoted by ads directly aimed at longtime champion McDonald's. Even Subway and Dunkin' Donuts have extended their A.M. daypart offerings, while Burger King tried to push its signature burgers to the early crowds.
As the fight for morning market share heats up, can the pizza segment feasibly compete?
While it's certainly not a nationwide trend, there are some pizza companies that have started to incorporate breakfast into their menu offerings. It may take a different approach to challenge consumers to rethink the usual pizza prototype of dough, meat, veggies and cheese, but there are those within the industry who believe with the right approach, breakfast with a pizza theme can be (and has been) successful.
“Breakfast provides an opportunity to look at how to work with toppings and ingredients you already have like ham, bacon and green peppers,” said Ed Zimmerman, president of The Food Connector. “From an execution point of view, it could be a wild success. Most pizza operators have everything except for the eggs.”
Steven Sillin, a Rosati’s Pizza Pub franchisee, has found a sweet spot with breakfast offerings in his Temecula, Calif., location. According to Rosati’s CEO Marla Topliff, the company is getting ready to expand breakfast to all of its pub locations.
“Right now our breakfast menu is limited to Sundays, but those are the days we usually fill up by 11 a.m., particularly during football season,” Sillin said. “Before our breakfast menu, a lot of customers would wait until after 12 p.m. to start ordering food, but now we start receiving breakfast menu orders as soon as we open up. We also offer a breakfast burrito and chicken and waffles, which both are two of our top sellers.”
Sillin adds that it is a mixture of minimal labor and operational costs, adding something new and different to the menu and having a knowledgeable staff that helps reduce any risk that may be associated with trying something new like breakfast.
“For years, pizza has been associated as a midday and dinner-style food item, so the key is to not only offer breakfast pizzas but to offer other items as well. We created the menu out of necessity and demand by our customers, so with a little extra work and an easy learning curve for our staff, we now offer something unique to the pizza industry and more options for our customers to enjoy," he said.
An acceptance curve
Introducing new ideas to consumers is not always smooth sailing when it comes to the traditional pizza space. Jerry Licari, a franchisee with Uncle Maddio’s in Charlotte, N.C, has seen firsthand how challenging it can be.
“All customers who have tried our breakfast items are very happy, although the actual response to our breakfast offering has been less than expected. We did anticipate that breaking into the breakfast scene would be difficult as there are a high number of competitors -- Starbucks, Dunkin Donut, Chick-fil-A and bagel shops -- and differentiating yourself as a new product has been challenging,” Licari said.
Both the Rosati's and Uncle Maddio's franchisees have noted that their best breakfast sellers are not traditional pizzas. Lacari said his brand's top offering is the breakfast Panini.
"We offer Break Zones (like a calzone) of either vegetarian variety, or one with scrambled eggs, a variety of cheeses, bacon, sausage, ham and vegetables. But, the Panini are our most popular item. We are introducing a new oven for Panini to reduce the preparation time as people in the morning are in a hurry and want their breakfast items quickly," he said.
Belief in a niche
Both franchisees said they feel good about having something the bigger chains don't have just yet. And, both believe there is a place for breakfast in the pizza segment, regardless of slow consumer response and operator adoption.
“We are committed to the breakfast option since it is additive to our sales with little or no additions to fixed overhead. We think most people get excited at the idea of pizza for breakfast. I do believe that variety will make the difference," Licari said.
“The proof of the success of adding breakfast to our menu truly is in our sales numbers,” Sillin added. “We have seen a steady increase in morning revenue since the introduction, and it has been well received and consistent for over a year now for us. We’ve been using social media to help get the word out about it, but we are confident it will continue to be a hit with our customers.”
It may take the right mix of marketing and menu magic to get the ball rolling. Zimmerman also believes location is the biggest make-or-break factor for most pizza concepts.
"I don’t think breakfast is a natural position with pizza, but it can work really well in the right environment,” he said. “Location is everything with this idea.”
Photo provided by Flickr user Craig Dugas.