Wendy’s top marketer on the decision to serve breakfast to Canadians

With two of Canada’s fast-food giants already dominating the breakfast market (and battling for more) are Canadians ready for yet another offering in the category? Wendy’s Canada thinks they are, announcing last week that it is launching a breakfast menu in the spring.

And the Ohio-based chain is coming in hot (and juicy), firing a broadside at the incumbents with a release saying that its as-yet undisclosed breakfast menu will offer customers an alternative to “dry English muffins, stale breakfast sandwiches, and see-through bacon.”

The company has been tight-lipped about what, exactly, will be on the breakfast menu, although the release did indicate that it would “pay homage” to fan favourite items such as The Baconator (a U.S. version of the sandwich swaps out the beef for sausage patties).

Liz Geraghty, CMO, international for Wendy’s, said the menu will take advantage of the company’s expertise in sandwiches and hot sides. “That’s what we’re good at doing,” she said. “Sandwiches and hot food will be at the centre of what we offer.”

While there’s no advertising in market yet, Geraghty said a campaign is in the works for closer to launch. Recent U.S. marketing for Wendy’s breakfast has tended to be product focused, while poking some gentle fun at the competition. Geraghty expects Wendy’s Canadian agency partners McCann, Ketchum and Initiative to come up with a similar version of that approach. “I like to think we’re going to have even more fun,” she said.

While Wendy’s has tested breakfast in Canada, this marks its first national foray into the space, she said. It comes on the heels of the company’s U.S. breakfast launch in 2020; with the launch in Canada, Wendy’s now serves breakfast in 95% of its global system, including Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

“We do think the category is ripe for disruption,” said Geraghty. “Canadians have not had a new choice in breakfast in I don’t know how many years, and certainly not a choice that offers the quality and convenience we will. We’re a challenger brand at our core… so we intend to enter the category and challenge the current norms consumers are accepting, and show them there is a better choice.”

Wendy’s has been preparing breakfast for two years. “We really wanted to make sure we weren’t just taking what’s happening in the U.S. and launching that,” said Geraghty. “We thought specifically about what parts [of the menu] could apply, and what changes could be made.”

One of best examples of that is coffee, which Geraghty said is “so much more important” to Canadians than Americans—who are far more likely to drink a carbonated beverage as they are a cup of coffee. In Canada, that practice is “virtually non-existent,” she said.

After an extensive nine-month review of key suppliers, Wendy’s ultimately partnered with Mississauga, Ont.-based Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee for its brew. “We needed to make that truly a strength of our menu,” said Geraghty. “You’ve got to have an amazing juice offering and an amazing coffee offering, and we’re proud of where we landed with that.”

According to NPD data from December, morning meal traffic in the QSR space was up 14% over the prior year. While that’s partly attributable to a loosening of Covid restrictions, Canadians continue to have an appetite for breakfast sandwiches.

The breakfast launch comes during a period of momentum for the Wendy’s brand in Canada, which has seen 10 consecutive years of same-store sales growth, and expansion to more than 400 restaurants. “[Breakfast] becomes another growth player for us at a time the brand has never been healthier,” said Geraghty.

The launch also puts Wendys squarely in the crosshairs of major breakfast players like Tim Hortons (which was owned by Wendy’s before being spun out in 2005 and is now part of Restaurants Brands International), McDonald’s and Starbucks. But if there’s any trepidation about going yolk-to-yolk with the biggest names in breakfast, Wendy’s isn’t saying.

“Wendy’s represents fast food done right,” says Geraghty. “We might not be the first to get into everything, but when we do enter, we aim to be the best. That is a lesson that [late founder] Dave Thomas taught us all many, many years ago. [Our competitors] have been doing it for years, but we see some compromises that Canadians have to make because they aren’t the freshest or most flavourful.”

After two years studying the competition, Wendy’s also sees some (egg) white space in the category that can be exploited. “There are not that many choices in the category, and what we offer is a fresh-cooked breakfast,” said Geraghty. “We’re really dialling up quality and we’re preparing food fresh in our kitchen.”

One of the learnings from the U.S. breakfast launch, she said, is that the menu doesn’t need to be overstuffed to appeal to consumers. “One of the things that people need in the morning is convenience and speed.”

Chris Powell