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The Birth of the Egg McMuffin
Rob Mercer

A legacy of innovation from within

It was 1970. Legendary McDonald's franchisee Jim Delligatti, still fresh from his historic success in developing the Big Mac sandwich, began experimenting with simple breakfast items, looking for a way to bring more business to his restaurant during the morning hours. Opening at 7:00 A.M. instead of the usual 11:00 A.M., Delligatti started selling coffee, doughnuts, and sweet rolls, adding pancakes and sausage to the menu a year later. Even with limited selection, Delligatti was by that time doing 5 percent of his business during breakfast.

But a significant dilemma remained: while Delligatti's innovation had increased business at his store, other McDonald's operators balked at the prospect of extending their already-backbreaking 11:00 A.M.-midnight shifts. Unless a new breakfast item was found that could deliver double-digit sales gains, the McDonald's breakfast line would have to wait.

That product, which was to completely transform the McDonald's experience, came in late 1971 on the vision of a man named Herb Peterson. After managing the McDonald's account for Santa Barbara, California-based D'Arcy Advertising, Peterson decided to join the increasing ranks of McDonald's franchisees. Having identified the same breakfast opportunity that Delligatti had seen, Peterson focused his creative energy on launching an entirely new product that could be eaten like the rest of the McDonald's line: by hand. A solution arrived when he began to modify an Eggs Benedict sandwich that was being marketed by Jack-in-the-Box, a West Coast chain. Experimenting with prepackaged Hollandaise, which he rejected as too runny, Peterson combined a slice of cheese with a hot egg, producing the exact consistency he had been aiming for. Since poaching eggs didn't fit into the McDonald's assembly line production process, Peterson invented a creative new cooking utensil - a cluster of six rings - that was placed on the grill to form the eggs in the shape of an English muffin. When he complimented the egg and muffin with grilled Canadian bacon, Peterson had a finished breakfast item that was perfect for a sandwich-oriented fast-food chain.

Convincing McDonald's founder Ray Kroc of the new creation's brilliance turned out to be easier than expected: Peterson invited Kroc to stop by a store over the Christmas holiday, and even though Kroc had just eaten lunch, he ate two of the egg sandwiches anyway. Peterson's organized demonstration of the new product, complete with a flip-chart to explain its economics, wasn't what sold Kroc. It was the sandwich itself. Weeks later, Herb Peterson was in Chicago showing the new product to McDonald's senior management, who received it with excitement. Not long after, the final challenge - naming the sandwich - was tackled during a dinner conversation between the Krocs and the Turners (Fred Turner is now Honorary Chairman of McDonald's Corporation), when Patty Turner suggested it be called the Egg McMuffin. The name stuck, and roll out began. By 1976, McDonald's had perfected the breakfast menu, elevating its brand above the competitors, which didn't introduce commercial breakfast items until the mid-1980s.

Thanks to the relentless creativity and innovation of its own visionary franchisees, McDonald's by then held a monopoly on breakfast. To this day, breakfast represents 15 percent of McDonald's sales.