- People aren’t approaching breakfast the same way anymore, but they're still eating it, providing opportunities for grocers to grow this category across the store.
- Interest in healthier items has led to a proliferation of plant-based breakfast products; other consumer trends affecting the daypart are the rise of snacking, and inventive flavors and formats.
- Retailers shouldn’t neglect the prepared food department in their breakfast strategies, as the area can deliver excitement as well as convenience.
Is it a good morning for the breakfast category? As the saying goes, it depends on which side of the bed you get up on.
On the one side, people’s evolving habits and tastes are affecting traditional breakfast consumption. According to research from Chicago-based Mintel, half of consumers agreed in 2018 that breakfast is more important than lunch or dinner, down from 55 percent in 2014. Another recent survey, conducted by OnePoll UK in conjunction with White Plains, N.Y.-based hummus brand Sabra, found that the average American eats breakfast only three times a week.
On the other side, there’s a sunny side up to the a.m. meal: A report on breakfast trends from Geneva, Ill.-based flavor company FONA International showed that breakfast enjoys 91 percent positivity among consumers. Additionally, even as sales of some traditional items stagnate or decline, others are waking up, and the overall push for wellness and convenience is opening up new opportunities.
“While the morning meal occasion may not be as popular as it used to be, it’s still important from a wellness point of view,” points out Bill Bishop, chief architect at Brick Meets Click, in Barrington, Ill. “It’s also important because breakfast food is increasingly being eaten at all times of the day.”
Redefining the breakfast daypart
Breakfast & Wellness
While the adage about breakfast being the most important meal of the day may not be taken the same way it used to be, a morning snack, meal or drink that promotes some form of wellness is important to today’s consumers, who are searching for interesting foods that also meet their lifestyle and dietary needs.
Breakfast in Foodservice-at-Retail Programs
In addition to items in the center store and refrigerated sections, grocers can deliver breakfast solutions to their shoppers through foodservice-at-retail programs. That approach is also an effective way to extend grocers’ own all-day sales.
The prepared food area is a key location that can accommodate breakfast solutions.
“Despite the prepared foods section of grocery stores being strongly associated with dinnertime, there is a significant opportunity for retailers to cater to morning meal occasions as well,” advises Hannah Spencer, foodservice analyst with Mintel. “A look at Mintel data on breakfast and brunch consumption by location shows that consumers are already purchasing popular breakfast foods, including breakfast sandwiches and smoothies, more often from retail than foodservice.”
According to Spencer, 57 percent of consumers already purchase prepared sandwiches from stores that sell groceries, and 27 percent currently purchase juices/smoothies, leading to a significant opportunity to tailor these prepared options for the morning daypart.
Steve Towarnicki, VP, CPG engagement for Dallas-based Symphony RetailAI, agrees that prepared foods and delis can be used better in the morning hours. “Many grocers are also using the deli pre-made section for breakfast options, leveraging the otherwise slow time of day for the section typically used for rotisserie chickens, sandwiches at lunch, and a variety of dinner options,” he observes. “By taking advantage of the deli, grocers can maximize the space in the morning, with products like breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos and home fries, giving customers options for an on-the-go breakfast alternative.”
For a certain segment of consumers, the dining experience at grocery stores involves more than just food choices. Phaedra Ruffalo, senior director, market development, for the American Egg Board (AEB), cites an AEB study showing that flavor and visual appeal are consistently important factors for today’s consumers.
“They want to be entertained; they want to be excited,” she says. “You’re seeing that with grocery stores, who know they have to excite consumers with different flavors but also keep that true comfort appeal.”
Generating such excitement is possible, adds Ruffalo, with menu ideas like a “walking omelet” that’s been popular on college campuses, or a waffle bubble cone, a warm waffle cone filled with scrambled eggs and other ingredients. “It’s still a breakfast profile, but with sweet-savory notes, and it has that visual appeal that consumers are seeking,” she points out.
Meanwhile, wellness is an umbrella term that also encompasses the concept of freshness.
The demand for fresh food at breakfast is another notable trend in the category, according to experts.
“Grocers and their CPG suppliers are adding more fresh-based ingredients as customer preferences shift toward fresher foods and cleaner ingredients,” notes Steve Towarnicki, VP, CPG engagement for Dallas-based Symphony RetailAI. “Retailers and CPGs are also meeting the needs of shoppers by introducing pre-packaged, fresh-ingredient meals that require only a few simple steps for preparation, like ‘just add water’ for oatmeal, or ‘add yogurt and blend’ for smoothies.”
Research from the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI) bears out the flourishing interest in fresh, beginning with the morning meal or snack. According to FMI’s 2019 "Power of Produce” report, shoppers are consciously trying to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables across most meal occasions, an effort that has intensified since 2017. In particular, the report found that nearly half (47 percent) of consumers are trying to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables with breakfast.
Plant it Here
The takeoff of fresh food for breakfast syncs with the other general movement toward more plant-based eating. “Plant-forward meals are growing, and we see more restaurants that are incorporating more vegetables and grains on their breakfast menus,” says AEB’s Ruffalo, citing dishes like avocado toast topped with eggs, and the complementary combination of mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and eggs that imparts a fresh and umami flavor profile to quinoa bowls with vegetables topped with a poached egg.
“A large number of fast-food chains, restaurants and even stadiums are now offering plant-based meat alternatives for all meal occasions, and grocery is no different,” he explains. “To accommodate this demand, grocers have had to allocate space on the shelf, reducing inventory for other categories that have either been over-allocated or are decreasing in popularity. For example, over the last decade, frozen juice sales have been in free fall, allowing retailers to reallocate the already limited frozen space to meatless, plant-based options across all meal occasions.”
In the breakfast category, Towarnicki notes the emergence of items like pork-less breakfast meat, plant-based smoothies and pre-portioned breakfast smoothie ingredients.
Many manufacturers, major companies and smaller, specialty and startup brands alike, are getting into plant-forward breakfast fare. Irvine, Calif.-based Before the Butcher offers an Uncut Breakfast Sausage patty as part of its line of plant-based meats. The Just Egg plant-based egg alternative from San Francisco-based Just Inc., made from mung bean, which is said to have the texture of chicken eggs, continues to gain in popularity: According to point-of-sale data from Chicago-based market research firm SPINS, Just Egg has captured 40 percent of the refrigerated liquid egg market in the natural channel.
Plant-based yogurts, including varieties from Chobani and Danone, are having an impact on the ever-expanding yogurt category.
Grocers have options for carrying heat-and-eat plant-based breakfast foods, too. Vancouver, British Columbia-based Daiya, for instance, recently added new plant-based breakfast burritos, made with an “egg-style” scramble, meatless crumbles and cheddar-style shreds, among other ingredients.