LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Yo quiero breakfast burrito!
Taco Bell, the Mexican-style fast-food chain that caters to the late-night snacking crowd with tacos and gorditas, introduced a breakfast menu Thursday at almost 800 restaurants in 14 states, mostly in the West.
If the campaign goes well, Taco Bell plans to begin selling its breakfast burritos and hash browns in its 5,600 locations nationwide by 2014.
Taco Bell is entering the mad scramble by fast-food heavyweights to compete for the morning on-the-go crowd. Breakfast has become the most important meal of the day for restaurants, accounting for virtually all of the industry’s growth in the past five years.
Breakfast’s new popularity has a lot to do with the economy. When people are out of work, they dine out less, with lunch sales being especially hard hit because they’re not grabbing a bite to eat during the workday. And when people are cutting back on discretionary spending, breakfast is a cheaper alternative when eating out than dinner.
Fast-food restaurants have taken notice. Subway started offering breakfast in 2010. Wendy’s is starting to get into the breakfast game, too. And Burger King, Starbucks and McDonald’s in recent years have been expanding they’re offerings of everything from breakfast sandwiches to oatmeal and smoothies.
For its part, Taco Bell is teaming with such popular brands as Johnsonville, Cinnabon, Tropicana and Seattle’s Best for its breakfast menu items that range in price from 99 cents to $2.79. The menu includes burritos stuffed with eggs and either sausage, bacon or steak; sausage and egg wraps; hash browns; hot or iced coffee; and orange juice.
Customers can buy the breakfast items in Taco Bell locations in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. A limited number of stores in Texas, Ohio and Oklahoma will also have the breakfast menu.
Some Taco Bell restaurants already are open round-the-clock to accommodate the new breakfast offerings. Others will open at least one hour earlier, which means an 8 or 9 a.m. opening for many. The stores will stop serving breakfast at 11 a.m.
That’s a later start time than at most other fast-food chains offering breakfast. But it’s a reflection of Taco Bell’s core customers — the 18- to 20-somethings — who generally aren’t up at the crack of dawn.
“What we found is, they’re not the customer that shows up at 6 a.m. for breakfast,” Mr. Niccol said. “We can get those guys on board, they become the evangelists, and then we can start adding additional hours for people that want breakfast at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.”