Breakfast is becoming the most important meal of the day for restaurants accounting for nearly 60 percent of traffic growth between 2005 and 2010. And oatmeal is the latest battleground. It's low-cost, easily prepared and doesn't spoil quickly. It also appeals to people who want quick, affordable food they perceive as healthier than the typical fast-food breakfast fare.
Starbucks Corp., the world's biggest coffee chain, said its $2.49 oatmeal has become its most popular breakfast item since it launched in 2008. Last year, McDonald's Corp., the world's largest burger chain, added $2.99 oatmeal to its menu. Fast food chain Chick-fil-A and Denny's casual dining restaurants also offer oatmeal, for $2.49 to $2.85 and $3.49 to $4.49, respectively. Burger King's oatmeal, at $1.99, is the cheapest of the group.
Restaurants are trying to capitalize on oatmeal's good-for-you reputation. But some industry experts say it's not a good fit for fast-food chains.
McDonald's has faced scrutiny for its oatmeal's 4.5 grams of fat and 260 to 290 calories. That's roughly equal to the number of calories in its hamburger or cheeseburger. By comparison, Burger King's oatmeal, which was created by Quaker Oats Co., has 110 to 270 calories and 1 to 4 grams of fat.
Still, Steve West, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, said: "People don't go to Burger King or McDonald's for their oatmeal ... they go for an Egg McMuffin."
Burger King, which has been re-evaluating its business since it was acquired by investment firm 3G Capital last year, recently made other changes. The chain said Friday that it was retiring its mascot "The King" and launching a campaign focused more on healthy food. The company also added salads and "Apple Fries" apple slices cut to look like fries for its kids' meals.