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Great Day in the Morning


Is it sunny side up for breakfast foods? Are consumers waffling about eating on the run or making their own breakfasts? Are any products or eating habits considered toast?

Morning metaphors aside, there’s a grain of truth to all of those queries. There are bright spots for many products consumed for breakfast or, for that matter, breakfast foods that can be consumed at other dayparts. At the same time, consumers are seeking more grab-and-go foods while on other occasions looking to take greater ownership of making their own meals. There’s room for both ways of preparing and enjoying breakfast, just as stalwart favorites stand on store shelves alongside new items.

In short, there are more options for breakfast meals and breakfast-type foods now than even just a few years ago. Depending on consumers’ moods, schedules, budgets or other considerations, they can heat up a frozen breakfast bowl in the microwave, pop a whole grain English muffin in a toaster, fry up a couple of eggs, toss a nutrition bar into a bag or make a quick stop at the grocery deli on the way to work for a hot egg-and-cheese burrito. And they can wash it all down with antioxidant-rich juice or a ready-to-drink cold-brew coffee.

Recent market research and analysis support the notion that what we eat for breakfast and how we eat it is evolving, with a greater number of choices available. In its 2014 report “The Cultural Transformation of the American Breakfast,” The Hartman Group, based in Bellevue, Wash., affirmed: “What we’re seeing today in the field is actually an ironic, even mystifying, partial return to the demand drivers of the 19th-century farmer, even though today’s consumers don’t require as many calories. The difference is in the cultural rationale and context behind the change.”

Those demand drivers include interest in traditional, farm-raised morning foods like eggs (about a quarter, or 23 percent, of respondents prepare or eat eggs on their own), and a reinvention of favorites like bacon and eggs via frozen breakfast meals from major brands like Jimmy Dean and Sara Lee.

The busy schedules behind morning meals also exemplify the return to the demand drivers of yore: While farmers in the field just didn’t have time to return to the farmstead for a sit-down breakfast, today’s on-the-go breakfast eaters “are willing to sabotage daily eating routines in favor of an important meeting, a Facebook post that is outrageous and must be answered, a nagging email or SMS message, or simple daydreaming,” according to Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt, who notes that foods that supply a lot of energy, like eggs, nutrition bars and powerful juices, are helping fuel people’s days in a new way.

According to Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for Chicago-based market research firm Mintel, although consumers are busy, they’re also discerning, resulting in some dueling trends in the breakfast sector. “The morning occasion is becoming more involved before we leave the door,” he asserts. “Cold cereal is No. 1 and still convenient, but it looks as if it’s falling out of favor. When it comes to eggs, we see more people preparing eggs in the morning now than even a few years ago.” Seifer adds that some of those who prepare eggs include younger consumers (i.e., Millennials) and Hispanics, both groups that are interested in preparing and cooking more meals at home.

Digging a little deeper, Seifer says that consumers’ parallel interests in high-quality, better-for-you foods are bumping up against their need and desire to get moving in the morning. “There will always be times when we’re out of time — you slept through your alarm, your kid was sick in the morning — and you take shortcuts,” he observes. “We’re still looking for things that are quick and easy that time of the day. But it looks as though consumers will make more room in the morning to prepare foods. They want ownership, but their mantra is, ‘How do I get out of the kitchen quickly?’ That seems to be the changing definition of convenience — fresh, in a quicker amount of time.”

Those parallel and shifting habits are also being watched by breakfast food companies. “Consumers continue to value quick, easy-to-prepare, satiating breakfast items that are also convenient to eat on the go,” says Aldo Cabrini, senior director of sales and marketing for Boise, Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co.

Dave Jones, SVP of sales at the Kellogg Co., in Battle Creek, Mich., agrees. “The way people eat breakfast continues to change,” he notes. “Many people are now eating small meals at home, then a wholesome snack on the go later in the morning.” Jones adds that portable bars and biscuits are a good fit for hectic morning routines, or can be consumed later at work or school after a smaller breakfast at home.

To that end, in addition to providing fuel for morning meals, some of those energy-providing morning foods have segued into other parts of the day. For instance, there was a time when yogurt was just for breakfast, but now the item, including its popular Greek-style variety, is consumed at many points in the day. “We don’t see eggs consumed later in the day as much,” observes Seifer, “but we see things like yogurt eaten throughout the day, and we also see some breakfast foods at afternoon snacktime.”

According to Simplot’s Cabrini, some breakfast entrées are being prepared beyond the noon hour. “Customers also enjoy breakfast items like sandwiches or bowls during other meal occasions,” he points out. “They can be consumed as snacks, or it’s not uncommon for consumers to eat breakfast items for dinner.”

Amid these cultural shifts and emerging trends, there are other factors, including short- and long-term situations, that are affecting current breakfast consumption. The outbreak of avian flu in some parts of the country, for example, is disrupting the egg supply chain. That may prove to be a short-term issue, but in the long term, other influences, like changing health habits, demographics and cost consciousness, will continue to alter the choice and consumption of breakfast-oriented foods and beverages.

“Consumers will make more room in the morning to prepare foods. They want ownership, but their mantra is, ‘How do I get out of the kitchen quickly?’”
—Darren Seifer, Mintel

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