Even by Taco Bell's (YUM) wacky standards, its latest product is a head-scratcher: The "Mexican-inspired" fast-food chain is currently in the midst of testing a waffle taco.
The waffle taco -- which is exactly what it sounds like -- is part of Taco Bell's recent test of breakfast offerings, which for now is restricted to locations on the West Coast. But Taco Bell is not the only chain trying to challenge McDonald's (MCD) in the fast-food breakfast game. A number of other quick-serve chains have dipped their toes in the water in recent years: Now Subway, Wendy's and even Popeyes are aiming to be your first stop of the day.
So why are chains best known for tacos and fried chicken trying so hard to serve you breakfast? In short, it's because breakfast represents a mostly untapped growth opportunity.
"It's the last unoccupied territory," says Scott Hume of BurgerBusiness.com, which tracks the fast-food industry. "Its not just breakfast -- it's the same reason you see chains extending hours. You go anywhere that there's potential customer traffic and sales."
That was basically the rationale that Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed gave for the push into breakfast, telling a restaurant industry conference that selling food during more of the day would help drive sales. Taco Bell has already had success moving into new "dayparts" with its late-night "fourthmeal" push; if it can likewise come up with new menu offerings that will allow it to sell food in the morning, it would be crazy not to try.
Sales figures vindicate this strategy. Hume says that while industry sales growth has remained largely stagnant of late, breakfast has been the sole exception; according to the NPD Group, breakfast accounts for 92% of traffic growth in the industry over the last five years.
But just because it's a traffic opportunity doesn't mean that it's easy to pull off -- Wendy's, for instance, has repeatedly failed to make inroads in the breakfast market. Hume says that whether a chain succeeds at breakfast depends a lot on well-positioned drive-through locations and menu offerings that can be consumed on the go -- like breakfast burritos, for instance.
One way or another, we'll see whether any of these newcomers can crack the Egg McMuffin's grip on mornings. Because right now, for the fast-food industry, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
Taco Bell's Cool Ranch Dorito Taco is Just the Latest 'Frankensnack'
Why Taco Bell and Popeyes Want to Serve You Breakfast
It's not unusual to see Oreos appear in other snack foods. Most ice cream shops and brands offer some variety of the cookies and cream flavor. And Oreos also appear (alongside several other snacks) as an optional mix-in for the McDonald's McFlurry.
But there was something bizarre about seeing them as a topping on a doughnut, which is exactly what Krispy Kreme began offering a few weeks ago. There are two varieties of the doughnut, both of which include both Oreo cookie crumbles and a dollop of Oreo's signature filling. They're available at select locations through April 21.
Krispy Kreme hasn't posted calorie count information for the doughnuts, and frankly, we're afraid to ask.
Cookies and pastries we can understand. Cookies and pizza are a bit harder to fathom. But in 2007, Oreos teamed up with Domino's, to create what it dubbed a "dessert pizza."
Sometimes Oreos go inside other snacks. Sometimes, other snacks go inside Oreos.
That's the case with this weird variety, which replaces the classic Oreo filling with one flavored like the traditional Halloween candy. The limited-edition cookie appeared on shelves last fall for the Halloween sales season -- though it was not the first time Nabisco offered a seasonal Oreo variety. The company sold candy cane Oreos during Christmas from 2008-2010.
Yes, that makes three entries for Oreos, which deserves a lifetime achievement award for its string of roles as best supporting snack food.
Pizza and beer have always been brothers in arms, so it was only a matter of time before some adventurous brewery found a way to mash them together.
Tom and Athena Seefurth of Illinois invented this concoction in 2006 by topping a pizza crust with tomato, oregano, basil and garlic and then rinsing the "essence of pizza spices" into the brewpot. The result, Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer, does in fact taste like pizza, with the oregano flavor particularly pronounced.
You're probably not going to down several pizza beers in one sitting -- it's not what you'd call a session beer. But if your local bar happens to have a bottle, we'd recommend giving it a try.
Chicken and waffles is a traditional dish that may very well qualify as a Frankensnack in its own right. So it was only natural that Lay's would seek to imbue that unique flavor into its potato chips.
We got a chance to try these, and were greeted with a strong taste of syrup. It's not exactly a taste you expect (or particularly want) to find in a bag of chips.
The variety was introduced in a contest to pick the next flavor of Lay's chips, and it's going up against "cheesy garlic bread" and "Sriracha." The latter is a wildly popular hot sauce and early reviews are good, so we fully expect it to beat out the chicken and waffles flavor and arrive soon at a grocery store near you.
In the mood for a burger, but feel like they haven't packed enough calories into the bun?
Sometimes referred to as a "Luther Burger" -- after R&B singer Luther Vandross -- the doughnut burger is just a beef patty sandwiched between a couple of doughnuts (or, if you're watching your calories, one doughnut split in half). Unfortunately there are no national chains offering this, but a couple of local establishments have them. One doughnut shop in Orange Country, Calif. offers a cheeseburger doughnut alongside other weird menu items like pizza doughnuts and sushi doughnuts. And the Gateway Grizzlies, an Illinois minor league baseball team, offer a bacon cheeseburger on a split Krispy Kreme doughnut, earning them the title of "baseball's best burger" from Sports Illustrated.
And if there are no restaurants or doughnut shops near you offering a version of this beast of a burger, don't despair: You can make one yourself -- Paula Deen has a recipe, of course.
Pizza Hut first recognized that the crust could be more than a handle when it introduced the Stuffed Crust Pizza in the 1990s. That wasn't exactly a Frankensnack -- they were just putting cheese in a part of the pizza that had previously been cheese-free.
But innovation doesn't sleep, and last year the pizza chain took the crust to a whole new level, introducing the Crown Crust Carnival pizza to its Pizza Hut Middle East stores. One featured a crust that incorporated chicken strips, while the other had mini-cheeseburgers circling the pie.
The Huffington Post also points out that Pizza Hut UK previously offered a hot dog stuffed crust. Clearly, America has fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to crust innovation.
Most Frankensnacks are essentially novelty foods, released on a limited-time basis in hopes of getting some curious diners who want something adventurous. Typically, they don't turn into best-selling menu items.
But the Doritos Locos Taco is the exception: The original nacho cheese flavor sold 100 million tacos in its first 10 weeks, and now accounts for a quarter of all Taco Bell taco sales.
So of course Taco Bell is releasing a second such taco featuring the second-most popular Doritos flavor, Cool Ranch.