Breakfast is back — at least more breakfasts at home.
For this shift in consumer eating patterns, we have the coronavirus to thank. According to “COVID-19: Reinventing How America Eats,” a report released in September by Jacksonville, Fla.-based sales and marketing agency Acosta, 55% of U.S. shoppers are eating at home more often since the pandemic began, with 44% of them eating breakfast at home every day, versus 33% before the pandemic. What’s more, even after the current situation has passed, a sizable 47% of shoppers plan to eat breakfast out less often or not at all.
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- The coronavirus has prompted more people to prepare and eat breakfast at home, and to enjoy more leisurely morning meals, creating opportunities for retailers and suppliers to grow the breakfast food category.
- Among the breakfast foods to capture consumer attention and dollars are cereals, frozen items and eggs.
- Many popular offerings are more nutritious options, reflecting shoppers’ desire to stay well in the midst of a public-health crisis as well as to attain their overall health goals.
Despite all of the bad news coming out of this ongoing public-health emergency, the news is unquestionably good for breakfast food categories and the retailers that carry them. Both groups have the opportunity to maintain sales growth as consumers initially obliged to have breakfast at home discover that they actually enjoy preparing and eating what Mom always said was the most important meal of the day.
“In the wake of COVID-19, we saw a surge in frozen breakfast items, including croissants, bagels, danishes and bread, as well as traditional ‘freezer aisle’ breakfast items like pancakes, waffles, breakfast sausages, and pre-made heat-and-eat breakfast meals,” notes Scott Crawford, chief merchandising officer at Bronx, New York-based e-grocer FreshDirect, which like other online retailers, is benefiting from the uptick in consumers’ use of e-commerce platforms during the pandemic. “Sales are still significantly up but have normalized with consumer shopping behavior. For our Corporate Office customers, we are also starting to see an increase in demand as offices reopen.”
Adds Crawford: “We’re seeing the increased need for easy meal solutions as customers juggle working from home with remote learning and other challenges. We’re also seeing requests for more individually packaged items — like waffles, mini muffins, etc. — from offices as people return to work.”
He observes that sales of grab-and-go prepared breakfast items have been up as high as 40% year over year, noting, “This was a relatively underpenetrated daypart in prepared foods, as many customers were eating outside of the household — at work, etc.”
Further observations from Crawford on the current state of breakfast: Customers are searching for easy meal solutions for the entire family; as people consistently have breakfast at home, FreshDirect is seeing growth in multiserve versus single-serve items, as with yogurt; there’s been growth in “nostalgia” items such as traditional cereals, which customers have been buying “at higher rates than we have seen in several years”; and within the cereal category, there’s been strong growth in healthier options for families.
Speaking of cereal, Battle Creek, Michigan-based Kellogg Co.’s signature items were much in demand as more people started making their own breakfasts every day.
“In the second quarter, our cereal consumption was up almost 16%,” says company spokeswoman Kris Bahner. “We also saw an increase in consumer trial and rediscovery from new and lapsed users in cereal, so we are tailoring our messaging and media to reach these consumers.”
“What we’ve really noticed is that before the onset of the pandemic, people were chronically pressed for time and looking for more on-the-go options,” observes Arjan Stephens, general manager of Richmond, British Columbia-based Nature’s Path, which puts out a variety of organic breakfast cereals and granolas, among other products. “Now people are taking the time to enjoy a delicious, nutritious breakfast, and realizing the positive impact that it’s having both on their health and their overall quality of life.”
This realization has led to “consumers rediscovering their love of cereal in particular,” asserts Stephens.
The company has “also seen an increased focus on health and nutrition overall, which has brought many new consumers to our always organic products,” he adds.
Among the company’s recent products are Nature’s Path Superfood granolas and oatmeal cups, which come in such varieties as Golden Turmeric and Smoothie Bowl, the latter featuring a blend of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, plus an innovative mix of super greens.
“The launch of our Superfood line hits during a time when consumers are putting their wellness first, focusing on what they can do to include functional ingredients in their diet while still enjoying a delicious treat,” says Stephens.
Griddle Me This
Cereals may be big now, but how about shelf-stable items that require a little more preparation, like pancake mixes? According to Andrew Maida, founder of Vaughan, Ontario-based Flourish Pancakes, available online and at select U.S. retailers, the company's high-protein, high-fiber, easy-to-make product is a smash hit with homebound consumers.
“We’re seeing more first-time customers purchase online and in-store,” notes Maida. “Our store locator searches have increased over 500% as consumers try to find Flourish in their favorite stores. Some of these customers that don’t have stores near them will shop online.”
The reason for this flurry of interest? “Consumers have more time in the mornings and are making the right choices — they’re eating better-for-you options that the whole family can enjoy,” he says. “We should see this [trend] stick around, as consumers are falling in love with these new products and should still be working from home for some time. ”
When it comes to product innovation, Flourish aims “to keep things fresh and exciting with limited-edition flavors like Birthday Cake, Pumpkin Spice and more coming soon,” observes Maida. “Consumers are really enjoying the excitement of something new. ... We have a whole range of new innovation for dietary restrictions, and also new product lines in the breakfast space launching early 2021.”
Frozen Breakfast All Day
As Crawford at FreshDirect has already observed, frozen breakfast foods are currently hot — but it turns out they’re not just for breakfast.
“The hours to eat breakfast foods have ... become more varied, with people eating breakfast foods later in the morning or as an afternoon snack,” explains Scott Glenn, senior director of marketing for the Jimmy Dean brand, part of Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods.
Glenn goes on to cite data from The NPD Group: “In fact, since the start of the pandemic, products that play in the frozen protein breakfast, bacon and breakfast sausage categories have all seen an increase in consumption at occasions outside of breakfast. Remote school and working from home have created more flexible eating schedules, with people grabbing protein breakfast options throughout the day.”
The brand has forged ahead with new product introductions, despite the public-health crisis.
“While convenience during the pandemic may be less about eating on the go, people are still looking for convenient protein breakfast options for the morning and throughout the day. Jimmy Dean brand is excited to introduce two new products this fall that respond to changing consumer behaviors in the midst of the pandemic: Jimmy Dean Casserole Bites and Jimmy Dean Delights Breakfast Wraps.”
The former product offers “everything consumers love about breakfast casseroles baked into handheld, poppable bites made with premium, seasoned Jimmy Dean pork sausage, real eggs, and other breakfast favorites like bacon, potatoes and cheese,” he says, while the latter is “a protein-packed option made with real veggies, all-natural turkey sausage or bacon, white cheddar cheese, and whole scrambled eggs, all conveniently wrapped up into a whole wheat tortilla that can be enjoyed at home or on the go.” These are just two breakfast items in the brand’s “exciting pipeline of innovation,” promises Glenn.
Other companies are also meeting the frozen breakfast moment. For example, cinnamon bun purveyor Cinnabon has entered the category with a line of Frozen Breakfast Creations that includes savory options, among them a CinnaBiscuit Chicken Sandwich consisting of fried chicken on a cinnamon chip biscuit, with cinnamon sauce.
Despite newcomers venturing into their territory, however, stalwarts in the frozen breakfast space are holding firm.
“Our frozen foods business ... saw elevated at-home demand continue, driving very strong net sales growth,” notes Kellogg’s Bahner. “We outpaced each of the [breakfast] category’s three product segments — waffles, pancakes and French toast – aided by strong innovation and renovation.”
In the refrigerated section, sales in some categories may have been slightly dented by COVID-19-inspired shopping patterns, but new products are still capturing consumer interest — and dollars.
“For cream cheese products, we believe shopping trends have impacted sales, more so as people are less in explore mode in the grocery store, and new items are having a hard time being discovered at shelf,” notes Abby Kempf, category manager, innovations at Tillamook, the Oregon-based dairy cooperative whose other products include a variety of other cheeses, as well as yogurt, sour cream and butter. “That said, Tillamook’s new Farmstyle Cream Cheese Spreads are already the No. 2 branded dairy-based cream cheese spread in the U.S., when looking at the past 12 weeks.”
Early next year, Tillamook plans to leverage consumer flavor trends and expand the line with a new flavor.
Eggs, meanwhile, have been in high demand as a breakfast staple, which George Weaver IV, brand specialist and fourth-generation co-founder of Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Utopihen Farms, attributes to their sheer versatility: They can be prepared on their own in various ways as well as serving as an ingredient in many other breakfast recipes.
Further, even though the category has certainly benefited from Americans’ comparatively more leisurely breakfasts in the age of the coronavirus, Weaver is quick to point out that “the egg also lends itself to being an inherently quick meal to prepare. It is easy to grab a couple of eggs and cook them right up. ... [They provide] nutrition without time-consuming meal preparation.”
According to Weaver, Utopihen’s pasture-raised chicken and duck eggs have proved popular with shoppers eager to stock up on them to avoid too many store trips. He observes that “store buyers ... are upping their orders for pasture-raised eggs because more and more consumers care about what they buy, related not only to what they believe are the best foods for them nutrition-wise, but also foods they know are healthier for the planet and aligned with principles around sustainability.”
In regard to the brand’s innovative offerings, Weaver notes that its “soy-free eggs are typically asked for by those [who] may be cutting soy out of their diet, and ... [our] duck eggs ... make pancakes fluffier, and they are higher in protein for those eating Paleo or keto.”
As for future brand innovations, he says that Utopihen is “working with chefs to create simple-to-produce home meal breakfast options that will roll out later this year.”