Food Trucks

The New Definition of a Breakfast Roll

Remember the excitement of hearing “Turkey in the Straw” or “Pop Goes the Weasel” coming down the street? Begging mom for quarters, kids ran after ice cream trucks to come away with the prize of a Drumstick or Flag Pop. What a delight!

Today’s ice cream trucks are no longer kings of the road, having lots of new company rolling along with them. They’ve been joined by a growing fleet of food trucks that offer an almost unlimited array of specializations ranging from cupcakes to pulled pork, from sushi to mac ’n cheese, from stir-fry to dessert. And those kids, now grown, are still lining up to grab their newest tasty prizes.

This segment has seen steady growth over the past five years. According to research firm, IBISWorld, the number of food trucks grew 8.4 percent between 2007 and 2012, now comprising a $1 billion industry. Some small business experts predict trucks will soon generate 3 to 4 percent of total restaurant revenue.

One growing category of food trucks is devoted specifically to the breakfast daypart and entrants into this area are defining their businesses with diverse types of offerings:

  • Upscale gourmet sandwiches like The Belly, made with pork belly, fried egg, arugula and caper aioli. (Bacon Bacon, San Francisco)
  • Design-your-own breakfast burritos from scrambled eggs and a choice of cheeses, meats, veggies and sauces. (Breakfast Burritos Anonymous, Houston)
  • Unique and edgy items like The Fairfax, made with chive and gray salt dusted scrambled eggs, caramelized onions and Tillamook Cheddar on a brioche bun spread with Sriracha mayo. (Egg Slut*, Los Angeles)
  • Remixed classic flavors like Pork Belly & Cornmeal Waffle, a maple-braised pork belly and fried egg on a cornmeal waffle with braising jus. (Skillet Street Food, Seattle)

*The Egg Slut recently opened a brick and mortar location.

Competition between quick-service restaurants (QSR) and food trucks has been on the rise, leading some QSR chains (e.g., Jack in the Box, Taco Bell) to launch their own trucks. 2013 NPD research showed that in the absence of a food truck, nearly half of those surveyed would have ordered from a QSR. While convenience is an advantage for both venues, 41 percent of consumers also feel food trucks offer unique foods, and in that regard, food trucks trump QSR.

As more food trucks skew upscale with gourmet items, an emerging issue may be the impact local trucks also have on fast casual restaurants’ business. Food trucks’ flexibility of changing menu items on a whim creates an accelerated incubator for new items and trends, spawning more atypical combinations and applications. This positions truck operators as the ones to watch for innovation by restaurateurs from QSR to fine dining. In its 2013 Food Trucks, U.S. report, Mintel shows that Millennials, those born between 1977 and 1994, are the driving force behind food truck sales. Trucks have responded by:

  • Communicating schedules and news via social media.
  • Offering convenience paired with cultural, gourmet and indulgent fare.

Any of the dishes mentioned here would translate well to brick-and-mortar operations trying to attract Millennial business. It may be like The Scoundrel, a hearty sandwich from Chicago’s Eastman Egg truck, served on a pretzel roll spread with spiced honey mustard and filled with eggs, smoked turkey, wilted spinach and white Cheddar. Or it may take after a sharable poutine called The Hot Mess with home fries topped with chorizo, cheese sauce, fried egg, Sriracha and creamy green chili sauce menued by Culinary Nomad in Maryland. These are items that couldn’t fail to add excitement to any menu.

Latin Breakfasts

¿Qué Es Para El Desayuno? (What’s for Breakfast?)

The United States is a Latin-food loving country. We snack on Doritos and quaff Coronas while watching any of dozens of Hispanic baseball players on TV, get a dulce de leche coffee to sip while doing errands, listen to Shakira on Spotify, grab a burrito at Chipotle, go to Javier Bardem movies and then return home to watch Sofía Vergara on Modern Family.

This year’s National Restaurant Association survey of American Culinary Federation chefs showed ethnic-inspired breakfast items were still among the top “hot” U.S. food trends. And Latin foods are unquestionably the No. 1 type of ethnic food Americans eat. A few supporting facts:

  • Salsa became the top selling condiment in 1992, outselling ketchup by $40 million
  • According to 2013 research done for the Tortilla Industry Association, tortillas now outsell hamburger and hot dog buns in the U.S.
  • The Hispanic population of the U.S. currently stands at 17 percent of the total, with the U.S. Census Bureau predicting that number to reach 30 percent by 2050.

According to consumer research firm Packaged Facts, U.S. sales of Hispanic foods and beverages totaled $8 billion in 2012 and are expected to reach $11 billion by 2017. Food manufacturers are vying to get their share of those figures with items like the extensive line of El Monterey Breakfast Supreme Burritos using sausage, bacon, cheese, potatoes, tomatoes and/or chilies with the scrambled egg fillings. Jimmy Dean Delights Southwest Style Breakfast Bowl features chicken chorizo, chilies and onions, and Chi-Chi’s Breakfast Burritos are filled with eggs, bacon, hash browns and cheeses.

Restaurants have certainly played their part in the American love affair with Latin breakfast foods, as even the most “American” chains include zesty examples:

  • Sausage Burrito ‒ McDonald’s
  • Southwestern Breakfast Burrito ‒ Burger King
  • Steak and Egg Burrito ‒ Jack in the Box

Some chains get more authentic:

  • Chorizo Tortilla Omelet with three-eggs, American cheese, chorizo, fire-roasted peppers & onions, tortilla chips, pepper jack queso and pico de gallo ‒ Denny’s
  • Salsa Verde Burrito of scrambled eggs, bacon, onions, American cheese, melted Cheddar cheese, tots and Salsa Verde (roasted tomatillos, onions, jalapeños and roasted garlic) ‒ Sonic
  • Western Egg Sandwich made of egg, bacon, Cheddar cheese, chipotle sauce and a mix of green peppers, red peppers, tomatoes & red onions on a bagel ‒ Bruegger’s Bagels

And some restaurants get very creative:

  • Baked Poblano Pepper and Egg with Pumpkin, Quinoa & Salsa Rosa ‒ The Breslin, NYC
  • Cuban Eggs made of hardboiled egg whites stuffed with peppers, onions and egg yolk covered with tomato sauce and cheese, baked and served over rice ‒ Thornton’s, Boston
  • Pork Belly Chilaquiles, crunchy tortillas, scrambled eggs, tomatillo-serrano sauce, Samuel’s cheese and tatume squash ‒ Xoco, Chicago
  • Border Benedict of green chili Cheddar corn cakes, topped with chorizo, two poached eggs, queso fundido, pico de gallo, sour cream, green onions and avocado ‒ Wild Eggs, Louisville

The wonderful thing about Latin flavors is that they make favorite comfort foods ‒ like traditional breakfast dishes ‒ adventurous without losing their comfort. Latin spices awaken the taste buds and easily create new experiences out of familiar foods.

Yet tortillas, tacos and burritos have become so mainstream most Americans no longer think of them as “ethnic.” The same thing happened with pizza and pasta: at one point they seemed exotic but now they are simply the answer to, “What’s for dinner?”

When Latin first started to make inroads onto menus, operator interest in changing the breakfast menu was tepid ‒ it was felt the morning daypart was too habitual for tinkering. But things have changed. According to Datassential, breakfast burritos are menued by 12.8 percent more operators than four years ago, and chorizo penetration has risen by 18.2 percent in the same time period. Operator opinion has reversed and Latin influences are being mined for their continued appeal to the adventurous American palate. Some day the answer to, “What’s for breakfast?” will be an offhand, “Chilaquiles.”

Asian Breakfasts

An Emerging Breakfast Trend Rises in the East

In its annual survey of American Culinary Federation chefs, the National Restaurant Association found ethnic-inspired breakfast items were among the top 20 “hot” food trends at U.S. restaurants for the second year in a row. Among ethnic cuisines, Korean came in at No. 2 and Southeast Asian earned the No. 3 spot, making it easy to understand why Asian-inspired breakfast items are getting more attention.

Accordingly, food manufacturers have been ramping up their production of Asian-inspired breakfast foods. Items like Earnest Eats’ Hot & Fit Asia Blend Cereal with mango, green tea and sesame seeds, and Tarté Foods’ line of Asian yogurts are only two recent examples.

Many additional indicators support the growth of interest in Asian cuisines:

  • Americans are getting serious about healthier dining and less processed foods, both being hallmarks of Asian cuisines.
  • A full 9 percent of menu items in Mintel’s menu item database are some type of Asian cuisine.
  • 2013 Mintel research shows 70 percent of consumers have eaten some type of Asian food away from home in the past month.
  • And finally, the number of Asians in the U.S. population rose 43 percent between 2000 and 2010. That’s a pretty clear message for restaurant operators.

There are scores of recognized Asian cuisines ‒ 30 within China alone ‒ so items beginning to appear on conventional American breakfast menus tend to be Asian-inspired, vs. strictly authentic. Hoisin and soy sauces, mango, cilantro, ginger, garlic, basil and lime are some of the Asian flavors increasing in frequency in breakfast dishes, while menu components appearing more often include:

  • Sriracha (Thai) ‒ spicy sauce often used with fried eggs, seafood and meats
  • Congee (China) ‒ watery porridge, sweet or savory, with meat, vegetables and herbs
  • Kimchi (Korea) ‒ garlicky fermented vegetables Pho (Vietnam) ‒ soup of noodles, herbs and meat; toppings can include cabbage, chilies, peanuts, bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, garlic or lime
  • Miso soup (Japan) ‒ usually soy- and fish-broth based, other ingredients are seasonal

Items like Sriracha and pho weren’t even part of American food discussions five years ago, but Mintel says Asian cuisine is now among the top geographical claims on fast casual menus. Sriracha visibility has gone truly mainstream, with Bruegger’s Bagels menuing a Sriracha Egg Sandwich and Subway offering Sriracha sauce on any sandwich, morning, noon or night.

Flavors and item components are being used in both traditional American items as well as in fusion applications:

  • Poutine: hand-cut fries, two eggs and cheese curds topped with pho gravy; Mushroom Congee made with shiitake mushrooms, ginger and soft-boiled egg. (both at Ba Bar, Seattle)
  • The Tokyo Ome-Rice: an omelette with tomato, green pepper, onion, mushroom, broccoli and chicken breast, sided with teriyaki glaze and garlic fried rice. (Uncle Mike’s, Chicago)
  • John’s Breakfast: house-made kimchi, sautéed veggies on brown rice and sunny side up eggs. (Tasty & Sons, Portland)
  • Bib Im Bop: steamed brown rice layered with sautéed spinach, steamed bean sprouts, spicy kimchi and two eggs, sided with hoisin, soy and house-made spicy guajillo sauces. (Tweet, Chicago)

Truly authentic Asian breakfasts are rare at non-Asian operations, but not impossible to find. Cassava, a restaurant in Outer Richmond, California, offers an item called Japanese Breakfast, including koshihikari rice, ichiban dashi miso soup, “onsen tamago” poached egg, Meyer lemon “kosho” natto and daikon wakame salad. It will be a while before that one shows up on Denny’s menu. More likely to land there would be kaya toast, made with the coconut egg jam popular in Singapore and Malaysia, which is usually paired with a soft-boiled egg drizzled with soy sauce. Straits in San Francisco and Mud Hen Tavern in Los Angeles already have it on their permanent menus.

As Technomic’s 2013 Breakfast Trend Report notes, 39 percent of consumers aged 18 to 24 and 46 percent of those aged 25 to 34 are looking for more ethnic items and flavors to be offered at breakfast. The emerging trend toward Asian breakfast influences is right in line with their wishes and, once again, Millennials are in the forefront of culinary evolution.