Mom Was Right

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so generations of American Moms told us. But even they might be surprised at how wise that was.

Many studies have been conducted that support Mom’s idea. Technomic tells us a full 63 percent of Americans agree that skipping breakfast is unhealthy. A nutritious breakfast provides many health benefits, including better weight control, improved concentration, and increased strength and endurance. And even more persuasive is a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition where researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health found that missing even one breakfast each week increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 20 percent. Mom probably didn’t know that.

An increasingly hectic and multitasking lifestyle makes eating a good breakfast even more important – and more difficult – than ever. No matter in which activities we’re engaged, fueling the brain and body in the morning is crucial for the best performance and health throughout the day. Without it, we play catch-up until we go to bed, grabbing whatever may be at hand. And we seldom find protein or complex carbohydrates in a snack machine.

Interestingly, while foodservice traffic for most dayparts fell in 2013, Technomic says Americans continued to increase their morning visits. Traffic was up 3 percent over 2012 year-end numbers, making it the third consecutive year of growth for the breakfast daypart. Does that mean we all finally embrace Mom’s message? Do we admit that she knew best after all?

No, we don’t. The fact is that a quick run through a drive-thru and a warm handheld meal make the morning just a little more civilized. Limited service restaurants (LSR) account for approximately 80 percent of morning meal visits, and a 2013 Mintel report tells us the most popular ordering method is drive-thru, at 46 percent, followed by to-go at 41 percent. Bottom line: these grab and go meals smooth our transitions into the day’s challenges and we like that.

That brings us to a tiny history lesson:

  • In 1975 the largest LSR, McDonald’s, used the ingredients Mom had in mind – eggs, meat and toasted bread – to create the Egg McMuffin and begin a trend of foodservice chains offering breakfast; in the same year they began installing drive-thru windows.
  • In 2013 the domestic LSR segment served 10 billion breakfasts (NPD).

In 1975 consumers could order one simple breakfast sandwich made with egg, meat and cheese on an English muffin from one hamburger chain’s drive-thru. Today tens of thousands of major Mexican (e.g., Taco Bell), hamburger (e.g., Burger King) and sandwich chain (e.g., Subway) locations open early in the morning to serve a wide array of sandwiches, frittatas, omelettes and other egg-based dishes made with an endless variety of meats, veggies, cheeses and sauces.

Given these recent representative examples, Mom wouldn’t recognize her idea of a good breakfast today:

  • John’s Breakfast (Tasty n Sons): with house-made kimchi, sautéed vegetables, brown rice and sunny side up egg
  • Spinach & Bacon Baked Egg Soufflé (Panera Bread): freshly baked soufflé made with spinach, Cheddar and bacon flavored with a dash of Tabasco®, a hint of garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice
  • Vegetable & Fontiago Breakfast Sandwich (Starbucks): fried egg, spinach, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions and melted aged Fontiago cheese on a multigrain ciabatta bun
  • Garden Gate Scrambler (Corner Bakery Café): freshly scrambled eggs with chicken apple sausage, fresh spinach, red bell peppers, mushrooms and Cheddar cheese

The flavors and ingredients that excite our 2014 sophisticated palates would likely make our mothers shake their heads in wonder. But they would certainly recognize the good nutrition they had in mind when they told us to sit down and eat our eggs. Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day, and it seems it hasn’t changed that much after all.

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?

Protein: It’s Good for Us, We Need It, We Want It

For decades nutrition experts have exhorted the American public to follow a healthier diet and pointed to dire consequences if their warning was not heeded. These messages mostly fell on deaf ears.

Now in 2014, it seems everyone has seen the light and is taking a harder look at their food and what impact it has on their bodies. The resulting recognition of high protein foods as critical to improving vitality and well-being has made them one of the most sought-after nutritional choices among American consumers. The International Food Information Council Foundation says a full 57 percent of Americans actively try to consume more protein.

Some consumers and researchers are concentrating specifically on the morning meal, as the right breakfast foods can increase the ability to concentrate, boost energy and strength, and even help maintain a healthy weight, with effects that last all day long.

Study after study published in academic journals including the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Obesity Research and The FASEB Journal have found that beginning a day with high-quality protein like eggs offers many benefits over high-carb breakfasts. University of Missouri researchers found that high-protein breakfasts helped participants feel satiated longer compared to others who ate breakfasts with the same amounts of calories and mass but without protein. The results confirmed an earlier Pennington Biomedical Research Center study that served participants breakfasts identical in calories and volume, but consisting of either a bagel or two eggs. Researchers found protein caused reductions in ghrelin, a hunger-stimulating hormone.

“Both these studies show that when people eat eggs at breakfast, they feel more satisfied and consume fewer calories throughout the day, compared to those who eat a primarily carbohydrate meal like a bagel,” explains Pennington researcher Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, PhD.

Both younger and older consumers are especially well represented in the high-protein camp. Millennials love food, care about where it comes from and expect the most out of it. They see protein found in eggs or meats as a way to increase energy and provide the best overall health at a time in their lives when they burn the candle at both ends. Boomers are looking for energy and ways to remain active to stave off the effects of aging, and protein-rich products can offer help for the muscle loss that naturally occurs as we age. The easily digested egg protein can be especially useful for this group.

Protein-rich options for health-conscious consumers in the U.S. are plentiful at grocery stores, as food manufacturers have hurried to satisfy consumer demand. Mintel shows the percentage of new food and beverage launches making a high protein claim in 2013 was almost three times higher in the U.S. (23%) than in any other country.

Restaurant menus are also awash in high-protein morning options, as operators understand consumers’ demand for a good start to their day. But with good nutrition as a given, the desire for variety and craveability are what drove the creation of these amazing breakfast creations:

  • Chickichanga® (First Watch): whipped eggs with spicy all-natural white-meat chicken, chorizo sausage, green chilies, Cheddar and Monterey Jack, onions and avocado in a flour tortilla, with Vera Cruz sauce and sour cream
  • Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl With Roasted Turkey (Panera): roasted all-natural, antibiotic-free turkey, egg whites, warm baby spinach, roasted peppers and basil pesto (found on the chain’s “Hidden Menu”)
  • Fra’Mani Ham and Mushroom Scramble (Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Café): artisan ham, house-roasted cremini mushrooms and shredded Swiss cheese, served over a plank of freshly toasted sourdough with two large scrambled eggs and oven-roasted rosemary-garlic potatoes
  • Breakfast B.M.T.® Melt (Subway): fluffy egg whites, Black Forest ham, salami and pepperoni under melted cheese, topped with banana peppers, olives, tomatoes and sriracha sauce and wrapped in flatbread

You probably noticed the common item in all these menu items was eggs, but really, it’s a rare creative breakfast sandwich that doesn’t include them. Maybe recipe developers incorporate them for the nutritional boost they bring, as each egg provides 6-7 grams of protein with all nine essential amino acids and vitamin D as a bonus. Perhaps they’re used because they augment virtually any other ingredient. Or maybe it’s just because they’re delicious.


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