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Leaning Toward Leaner Proteins

Leaning Toward Leaner Proteins

Datassential shows the egg is king of foodservice breakfast proteins with a 92 percent penetration. Next in line are bacon (84%), sausage (77%), and ham (65%), with leaner breakfast proteins like turkey sausage and turkey bacon growing fastest. Within the past four years, breakfast menu penetration of turkey bacon increased a whopping 53 percent, and turkey sausage rose an impressive 39 percent.

In giving more thought to their food choices and rediscovering the relationship of protein to energy, many consumers have made it a nutritional priority. This scrutiny has some reluctantly moving away from dependence on red meat and pork, and gravitating toward eating more turkey and chicken throughout the day. The change is driven by concerns about saturated fat and related health issues, as well as a significant disparity in pricing. Per Mintel, 39 percent of beef consumers say they ate less of it in 2013 than in 2012, and 25 percent of pork consumers say the same.

The classic American breakfast has always been a protein-rich daypart fueled by eggs. The standard plated meal anchored by eggs with a side of bacon or sausage is still enjoyed today but with many more options than only a few years ago. Beyond traditional protein choices, there’s been a ground swell of bacon, sausage or chorizo made of either turkey or chicken, and less processed grilled chicken and sliced turkey are popping up as well.

Both turkey and chicken have increased in popularity in the morning. Last year Technomic found that 24 percent of consumers surveyed said they’d been eating turkey at breakfast more often, while 11 percent had been eating more chicken. Seventy percent of those with increasing consumption said a desire to eat more healthfully was behind the change.

As demand for more breakfast protein options grows, so does egg white menu penetration. Datassential found that 32 percent more restaurants offer egg whites than in 2009, resulting in 20 percent of breakfast menus featuring them. Growth has been strongest at QSR, driven by fast casual and large chains looking to compete with them.

Increased breakfast vegetable menuing goes along with the consumer desire to eat leaner proteins, so breakfast operators have expanded beyond the ubiquitous tomatoes, onions and peppers. Spinach, mushrooms, zucchini and kale are seen more frequently as multiple veggies are being used in items like omelets, frittatas and Benedicts. Arugula, plantains, sweet potatoes and poblano peppers have all at least doubled the number of breakfast menus they’re found on in the past four years, per Datassential data.

This new breakfast construction of leaner meats with more veggies is right in step with major Millennial interests in eating healthfully, staying strong and performing well, not to mention optimizing appearance and fitness. More than 30 percent of this age group polled by Technomic said they’d like to see more vegetarian breakfast proteins offered, which has led to even more protein-rich eggs and cheese throughout the breakfast menu.

Many Baby Boomers actively take charge of their health management by using protein and other nutrient-specific foods to help improve their bodies’ responses to getting older. Focus groups conducted by Dairy Management suggest that consumers aged 45-65 years respond well to messages that connect protein with mobility. Functional ingredients like protein and nutrient dense veggies are a definite win with this group.

Operators heard consumer preferences and have menued some delicious responses.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Breakfast Burrito with Chicken (Qdoba): flour or whole-wheat tortilla filled with grilled chicken, eggs, potatoes, choice of sauces and salsas, and optional shredded cheese or sour cream
  • Chicken Apple Sausage Power Panini Thin (Corner Bakery): scrambled eggs, chicken apple sausage, and Parmesan and Cheddar cheeses on thinly sliced whole-grain harvest toast
  • Power Wrap (First Watch): fluffy egg whites, turkey, spinach, house-roasted cremini mushrooms and Swiss in a sun-dried tomato basil tortilla
  • Baja Chicken Hash (Cheesecake Factory): crisp tortillas topped with chicken chorizo, poblano chiles, potatoes, corn, peppers, onions and cheese, then crowned with eggs
  • Sliced Turkey Breakfast Sandwich (Dunkin Donuts): three slices of turkey, reduced fat Cheddar cheese and pepper egg whites in a new, toasted multigrain flatbread

Restaurant operators are taking the quintessential American breakfast, keeping the good stuff and making it even more delicious. Who says eating lighter can’t be even better than a classic?

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