Keeping Breakfast in Balance
To reach consumers first thing in the morning, companies must juggle convenience, price and health.
BakingBusiness.com, Feb. 1, 2012
by Charlotte Atchley

A growing number of consumers believe breakfast represents the most important meal of the day. However, trying to balance the desire for a healthy lifestyle with the reality of an on-the-go one leaves consumers looking for convenient, portable and healthy breakfast foods.

A study by the Chicago, IL-based research firm Mintel showed that 58% of Americans believe breakfast is more important than lunch or dinner and even feel guilty if they skip breakfast. This conclusion competes with the same study’s findings that more people than ever must endure extreme commutes of more than an hour. Instead of squeezing in breakfast before getting on the road, more consumers eat breakfast away from home, even if they are simply bringing breakfast from home, said Kelly Weikel, consumer research manager, Technomic, Inc., Chicago, IL.

“More consumers are just pressed for time and eating breakfast on the go,” Ms. Weikel said.

On the go

Whether consumers choose from their own pantries or hit the drive through of a quick service restaurant, they want their breakfast to be convenient, fast and portable. Consumers want something they can eat in the car or transport easily to the office. Technomic’s recent report on breakfast foods indicated a rise in portable breakfast foods such as breakfast sandwiches and baked foods — muffins, bagels and croissants.

Although it’s a longtime breakfast staple, the breakfast sandwich continues to throw its weight around fast casual and QSR menus. English muffins, bagels, breakfast rounds and biscuits provide a handheld vehicle for delivering protein and vegetables to consumers, making breakfast sandwiches an obvious choice for those wanting something filling, inexpensive and portable.

“When 60 to 70% of your business is through the drive through, portability is a critical, driving factor,” said Danya Proud, spokesperson for McDonald’s USA, Oakbrook, IL. “It’s part of everything we do. As much as possible, we try to make all of our menu items easy to eat on the go.”

Despite the lure of the drive-through window’s easy breakfast fix, consumers still want to save money by eating at home, but they also desire breakfast foods that require little to no preparation. According to Mintel, breakfast bread still dominates the breakfast food category. Together with cereal, breakfast breads make up about half the sales in the retail market. Bagels, English muffins and swirl breads can all be eaten plain or toasted with a spread at the table, in the car or at the workstation.

“Baked goods are very fast and easy to obtain,” Ms. Weikel said. “You can just pick it up and go. You don’t need to wait for any type of preparation.”

Gary Kyle, vice-president, marketing, Skinner Baking Co., Omaha, NE, said he has noticed growth in the muffins category. Skinner Baking responded with its own branded line of muffins, which it launched in January. Mr. Kyle attributes this growth to the public’s perception of muffins as a meal replacement as well as a convenient, portable choice for breakfast.

Getting a healthy start

Breakfast already has a leg up on other mealtimes in the health department. With breakfast, it’s all about perception, and consumers generally view breakfast and its food options to be healthier than other meals and snacks. Consumers who want to start the day off right look to breakfast to get them going.

“We’ve asked consumers over the past three years, and we’re really seeing an increase in those who say it’s unhealthy to skip breakfast,” Ms. Weikel said. She also observed consumers no longer are avoiding fat or cholesterol but moving toward an overall moderate approach to healthy eating. Starting the day off with breakfast — and a healthy breakfast — fits into that goal. 

Although breakfast’s health benefits are backed by research, consumers seem to think muffins, bagels and breakfast sandwiches are healthier than they actually are.  

“From the point of view of the consumer, they would rather have a blueberry muffin than a cream-filled donut even though they are probably the same in terms of fat and calories,” Mr. Kyle said. “Muffins have that healthy perception.”

He also mentioned that Skinner Baking has seen resurgence in corn bread, which led the company to develop a corn muffin in its new line. He attributed this growing interest to health perception as well as the appeal of retro flavors. Without indulgent inclusions such as chocolate chips, consumers think of corn muffins as simpler and, by extension, healthier. The company is also rolling out carrot and blueberry varieties of its new Drury Lane muffin line.

The larger food trend of simple foods and clean labels has made its way into breakfast food at Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, Fort Wayne, IN. J. Bohn Popp, vice-president, marketing, said that the company saw the clean label trend in the marketplace and applied it to breakfast breads, which are also all whole-grain.

When Ozery Bakery, Inc., Toronto, ON, developed its Morning Rounds, the company was trying to fill a hole it saw in breakfast for a naturally nutritious and delicious food.

“People like tasty things that are not full of chemicals,” said Alon Ozery, the company’s co-owner. “Slowly, the conventional market is going in that direction. If you look at major bakeries, they are moving toward using less chemicals and more natural processes in producing their bread.”

Mintel’s report noted that foods offering healthier alternatives experienced the greatest sales growth between 2004 and 2009. Certainly, consumer demand for healthy options inspires much innovation in new product development. The breakfast category also supports use of health claims such as whole-grain or gluten-free that Mintel reported are most effective with women and older consumers.

Despite the desire to eat healthier, convenience and price generally win out in the end. Given the choice between a donut that’s convenient and healthier oatmeal that would require time to prepare, Ms. Weikel said that most consumers will choose the convenience of grabbing the donut instead of cooking the oatmeal.

Price point matters

When it comes to breakfast, health is nice and convenience is even better, but the most important factor for consumers is a low price. Consumers do not want to pay a lot for breakfast, especially when they turn to fast casual restaurants.

Ms. Weikel attributed this price consciousness to two reasons. First, consumers expect a low price for breakfast items because they probably purchase this meal out regularly. When buying breakfast at a drive through three times a week, a consumer expects the prices to be manageable. Second, consumers see breakfast as something they could easily fix at home, so consumers don’t see a need for high prices in this category. This presents difficulties when trying to satisfy consumer demand for healthy and natural at the same time.

“It’s a challenge balancing the taste and cost aspects if you go with berries and stay natural,” Mr. Ozery said. “It’s a challenge to create a natural, tasty product at a reasonable price point.”