Fast food has long been a growth industry, but just like nearly every other sector of the economy, it has been walloped by the coronavirus.
Bottom line: Americans are simply buying less fast food, as the chart below plainly shows. The percentage of people who rarely or never eat fast food has grown since January 1, and the percentage of people who say they eat fast food at least once a month or more has declined.
And it’s not just the bottom line numbers that have taken a hit; virtually across the board, CivicScience has found overall favorability of fast food – as well as quick serve and coffee giants – has trickled downward since the start of a globally challenging year.
Among fast food and quick-serve franchises Dunkin’ seems to be an outlier. Not only has favorability for Dunkin’s food nudged upward, but Americans are about ready to flip from predominantly neutral to positive. Worth noting: Their coffee-only favorability numbers have dipped right along all the other chains, but again those who say they like eating at Dunkin’ has moved up, surpassing McDonald’s favorability.
Dunkin’, which concentrates on breakfast (and yes, donuts are considered breakfast by many people) as their main food offering, is also bucking the singular trend that has devastated the industry: Fast food breakfast has crashed and burned during the coronavirus crisis.
The data show 54% of U.S. adults have recently ordered fast food for delivery or takeout but it’s unlikely those were from the breakfast menu. Very simply, more people are eating breakfast at home, and fewer people are eating on the road or at work.
This is thrown into stark relief when Americans are asked about the nature of their employment during the pandemic. People whose jobs haven’t been affected by the pandemic are eating breakfast outside of their home at more than twice the rate of the general population. And the more disjointed someone’s work life has become, the less likely they are to eat breakfast outside of their home.
It’s notable that work is the major factor in whether someone chooses to eat outside of his or her home for breakfast; other metrics – such as spending habits during the pandemic – show much more minor correlations, though it is interesting that people who say they’re eating breakfast out report spending more money overall during the pandemic.
All the chains – yes, even Dunkin’ – are singing the breakfast blues. A comparison of the last six months with the six months before it paints an almost grim picture. Across the board, people with favorable views of these chains are eating breakfast at home at a 15% to 20% higher clip since the start of the pandemic.
So what’s the path forward for these fast food giants? Well, a “return to normal” would certainly help, but what “normal” is going to look like in 2021 might be a lot different than what normal was way back in the olden days of 2019.
Clearly, breakfast needs a boost for these behemoths. One area they may want to concentrate on? Healthy eaters. The percentage of people who say they “always” try to eat a healthy breakfast has begun to spike in recent months.
In fact, this dynamic may have already started playing out – and it might be a reason favorability for Dunkin’s food hasn’t taken as much of a hit. Forty-five percent of Americans who say they “always” try to eat a healthy breakfast have a favorable view of Dunkin’, which is a 20% higher view than people who always try to eat a healthy breakfast have for McDonald’s.
Dunkin’ has embraced plant-based meats on their breakfast menu across the entire chain; McDonald’s, as of yet, has not.
With plant-based meat alternatives on the rise, it doesn’t seem like the worst idea for these fast food chains to fully embrace – and fully advertise – healthy breakfast choices in an effort to get Americans in their cars in the mornings – even if they don’t have an office to get to.