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Taco Bell adding breakfast menu in March

McDonald's is in the early stages of looking

McDonald's is in the early stages of looking at whether it can make breakfast available later in the day so fans of the Egg McMuffin and Sausage Biscuit, like this one served June 20, 2009 in New Hyde Park, can get them after 10:30 a.m. Credit: Charles Eckert

Egg McMuffin, meet the Waffle Taco.

Taco Bell is readying for the launch of its national breakfast menu on March 27, with items such as the A.M. Crunchwrap designed to appeal to its fan base of younger men. And the chain says breakfast will be available until 11 a.m. -- a half-hour later than McDonald's offers its Egg McMuffins.

"We can turn the breakfast conversation into a two-horse race," Taco Bell president Brian Niccol said in an interview.

McDonald's has long been the fast-food leader in the mornings, with its popular Sausage Biscuits, Hotcakes and other items pulling in roughly 20 percent of the company's U.S. sales. But the chain has been facing stiffer competition over the years, with places such as Starbucks and Subway looking for a piece of the growing breakfast business.

McDonald's, which has more than 14,000 U.S. locations, has also said it plans to step up its marketing of breakfast this year as new players enter the space. Separately, the president of McDonald's USA, Jeff Stratton, also told The Associated Press that the chain is in the early stages of looking at whether it can extend its breakfast hours.

Stratton noted that cutting off breakfast on the weekends at 10:30 a.m. "doesn't go very well" with people in their 20s and 30s in particular.

Still, figuring out how to serve both breakfast and lunch poses an operational challenge given the limited kitchen space in restaurants.

Taco Bell has been testing and tweaking its menu in a select number of its nearly 6,000 U.S. locations over the past several months. For the national rollout, the company's restaurants have had to hire additional staff, train existing staff and buy new equipment, including for the coffee it plans to start serving for the first time.

The items on Taco Bell's breakfast menu are intended to be easy to hold and eat on the go, including a waffle taco -- a waffle wrapped around a sausage patty or bacon, with scrambled eggs and cheese, served with a side of syrup.

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