The inventor of the Egg McMuffin has died.
Herb Peterson, a McDonald's franchisee in Southern California, created the breakfast sandwich in the early 1970s. It helped change the way Americans eat breakfast, and opened the door to a whole new market for the fast food industry.
Peterson actually got his start with McDonald's as an ad man. He penned the company's first national advertising slogan, "Where Quality Starts Fresh Every Day."
But his more lasting contribution was the Egg McMuffin, a fast-food version of Eggs Benedict. Peterson developed a special teflon ring for cooking the eggs on a hamburger grill. He topped them with a slice of Canadian bacon. And instead of runny hollandaise sauce, he substituted a slice of melted cheese.
It was breakfast in a sack, and just the kind of finger-food that busy American consumers had been missing in the morning.
"I don't think there were a whole lot of products that fit that need at that point in time," says Bob Goldin, a food industry consultant with Technomic. "Breakfast tended to be a sit-down occasion, eggs and bacon, cereal. And here comes this Egg McMuffin that people could eat on the go."
The Egg McMuffin became the anchor of McDonald's new breakfast menu. And when it was rolled out nationally in 1976, restaurants were able to ring up sales for several additional hours every day. Today, breakfast accounts for about a third of McDonald's total sales, Goldin says. And while fast food competitors have added their own breakfast offerings, but they've never really caught up with McDonald's.
"In many ways, that is certainly one of their key competitive advantages in my mind: their dominance of the breakfast day-part," Goldin says.
The Egg McMuffin even made waves outside McDonald's, helping to boost sales of English muffins throughout the country.
Peterson was co-owner of six McDonald's restaurants in southern California, and continued to visit the stores until recently. He died Tuesday at his home in Santa Barbara. He was 89.