Incredible Breakfast Trends

Healthy Consumer Trends: Operator/Manufacturer Response

The world was a simpler place in the 1980s and 1990s. When asked for healthier foods, foodservice operators and food manufacturers accommodated consumers by eliminating fat and sodium, which also removed most of the flavor. Lackluster sales were taken as proof that consumers didn’t really want healthy items. On the contrary, what they really didn’t want was bland food.

After years of false starts, both operators and food manufacturers have begun to depend on culinary science to upscale and make healthier even quick serve menu items and frozen meals. Spices, herbs and citrus are now added to rev flavors. Artificial additives have been eliminated, and sustainably-produced items are becoming more common. Recognizing that fresh and clean are not fads but growing trends, the industry is moving toward simpler foods, cleaner labels and fresh rather than processed. Consumers equate fresh with healthy, so progressive menus emphasize seasonal produce, house-made ingredients and made-to-order signature items.

This brings us to a next evolutionary step. Although the industry formerly merely deleted things like fat, it is now replacing suspect ingredients with more natural ones. This leads to simpler, less complicated ingredient lists. “Consumers have seen recall after recall, so fewer ingredients, particularly artificial ones, are seen as fewer elements to break down in the food chain,” notes William Roberts, Mintel senior analyst, food and drink.

Companies, including General Mills and Kraft, are eliminating artificial colors and flavors. Sweet Earth Natural Foods describes many of its frozen breakfast products as using no GMO, but using all natural protein, ancient grains and/or fresh vegetables. Good Food Made Simple’s breakfast items are variously promised to be all natural, made with turkey raised without antibiotics and having no artificial ingredients, trans fat or added nitrite/nitrate. Chains like Panera, Chipotle and Subway are renovating iconic products and creating new ones more in tune with consumer sentiments. To that end, McDonald’s is currently testing a healthy breakfast bowl in Southern California that combines egg whites, turkey sausage, and fresh spinach and kale.

This new thinking helped to popularize items like the breakfast bowl. Popping up on menus throughout the industry, bowls incorporate a wealth of flavors, nutrition and textures, all in one multifaceted dish. The components are normally fresh items like just-cracked eggs, fresh produce, whole grains and fresh poultry. Ingredients retain their identity, making the bowl a treasure trove of flavors, the customization of which is especially attractive to Millennial diners. Described as soft scramble, roasted mushroom, tomato confit, scallion and pecorino, the Scrambler Cruiser is just one in a line of breakfast bowls offered at NYC’s Egg Shop.

Fresh vegetables have been declared a major trend for 2016 by trend watchers Andrew Freeman Co. and Baum+Whiteman. Menued increasingly as center of plate items and add-ins to increase fiber and nutrients, veggies offer many ways to create a healthy morning meal. The Breakfast Bowl at Kale & Clover in Scottsdale incorporates a symphony of flavors and textures with two eggs, brown rice, tomato, zucchini, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, avocado and house-made pesto. Even kale and Brussels sprouts make appearances in the morning with items like Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Two Fried Eggs and Kale Pesto at the Rose Cafe in Venice, Calif.

And now for another step, maybe even a leap. Drive-thrus have habituated consumers to having easy, fast access to prepared foods, but until recently many of those foods were high in calories, sodium and fat. Breakfast was often the exception to this, offering high-protein, lower-calorie sandwiches that were also often higher in fiber than their lunch and dinner counterparts. But today as we move toward the cleaner-labeled, more natural food we used to eat at home before the convenience of drive-thrus existed, a great opportunity presents itself. Operators are at the perfect point in drive-thru history to use those windows to promote a solution for the overscheduled consumer’s problem: how to get a truly healthy meal during a time-crunched morning. Or at any time they choose. Today’s consumer both needs and wants better nutrition that carries an environmentally-friendly halo. Time constraints dictate that for the perfect consumer solution, it be provided readymade and preferably through the ease of a drive-thru window.

The sweet spot here is the convergence of consumers’ desire for convenience, clean nutrition and social responsibility in the morning, with the operators’ ability and willingness to provide it. Operators who can make it work will have added new patrons to their drive-thru lane. This may be the start of a beautiful relationship between convenience and truly healthy meals.


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