Incredible Breakfast Trends

The Business of Comfort Food

If you’d asked a 1960s-era foodservice audience for a show of hands from those who served breakfast, many hands would have been raised. If you’d then asked for those from the midscale family segment to lower their hands, you might have been left seeing no hands at all. The 1960s group of breakfast operators was quite clearly defined, with chains like Denny’s and independent diners making up the vast majority of those serving morning meals.

But things were about to change. Offered here is a quick historical look at the evolution of foodservice breakfast:

  • In the 1960s burger chains sold burgers, fries, Cokes, shakes and not much else.
  • In 1972 McDonald’s launched the Egg McMuffin nationwide.
  • Hardee’s started making made-from-scratch biscuits in 1978.
  • Burger King entered the daypart in 1985 with the Croissan´Wich.
  • Today, NPD says 80 percent of foodservice breakfasts come from quick service operations.

In just over 40 years, the landscape radically changed.

Throughout the recent recession and continuing today, the breakfast daypart has remained the one consistently bright spot in foodservice, growing year after year. According to Technomic, U.S. breakfast sales increased an average of 4.8 percent annually between 2007 and 2012, with an additional 3 percent gained in 2013. During this same time, overall sales remained generally flat.

Breakfast sandwiches have made a particularly strong showing with growth every year since 2009, led by double-digit increases at both midscale and casual dining. With the other dayparts either stagnant or losing ground, breakfast is the fertile ground for operator growth.

Major chains are doing just that, and with a major emphasis on sandwiches. In 2010, Subway’s 25,000+ U.S. and Canadian units captured the industry’s attention by launching their breakfast daypart. The program includes fresh coffee, and sandwiches made with omelettes, breakfast meats and cheeses, customizable with any of the many toppings and sauces that top sandwiches throughout the day.

In March 2014 Taco Bell made major waves by not only launching an extensively tested roster of unique breakfast items, but also doing the unthinkable: directly taking on the competition.

Those two launches added over 30,000 locations serving breakfast in North America. This time it only took two years for the landscape to radically change.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc. has stated, “It’s a very competitive marketplace. More players are focusing more effort on the breakfast daypart.” Depend on it ‒ existing breakfast heavyweights like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts will not let other players easily erode their position or keep them from further optimizing their a.m. opportunities.

One of those players is the retail market, which has watched and learned from the foodservice industry. Marketers Tyson, Jimmy Dean and Morningstar Farms have lines of breakfast sandwiches that look much like the ones available at a drive-thru. Hormel produces Spam, scrambled eggs and potato bowls, and Kraft has breakfast food Lunchables. Grocery chains Kroger, Giant Eagle and Aldi have lines of meat, egg and cheese flatbread, biscuit, English muffin and croissant sandwiches to rival ones found on QSR menus.

But despite considerable marketing energy focused on the daypart, significant incentives await operators interested in entering the fray: the morning is still underpenetrated by the restaurant industry. Datassential shows that 83 percent of breakfasts are eaten at home, which offers a huge untapped market for restaurants. There is room for many more players, and just as operators did with other dayparts, the only thing required is to make foodservice the answer to consumers’ needs. Those with the right answers will reap the rewards and that result is certainly comforting.


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