Grab-and-go breakfasts fuel morning sales

January 27, 2016

While a basic Google image search of “breakfast” will confirm that a home-cooked plate of bacon, eggs and toast remains the iconic ideal for the first meal of the day, reality paints an evolving and different picture of what Americans are eating each morning.

Research and restaurant sales demonstrate that a growing number of breakfast lovers want that meal made quickly, conveniently and, if possible, delivered in a portable form. Whether their rapid repast is a packaged energy bar for nibbling en route to class or a hot sandwich eaten on the train ride to work, modern day breakfast increasingly assumes new forms the further it moves away from plates and silverware at the dining table at home.

A key change is in the growth of nutritious breakfast options. While our grandparents told us stick-to-your-ribs feasts of bacon and eggs kept them fueled for blue collar labor, today's more sedentary workforce knows it needs nourishing offerings with fewer calories. The good news is restaurants, cafeterias and food manufacturers are producing a dizzying array of mini-meals designed to bridge the gap from wake time to lunchtime.

While Au Bon Pain’s reputation is built on indulgent muffins, croissants, cookies and scones, its patrons can nab meals as simple as hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit and nut bars if a light bite is in order.

And if one’s willpower is strong enough to ignore a Panera Bread Co. spinach and bacon baked soufflé, that customer can choose a Breakfast Power Sandwich made of avocado and egg white served on a sprouted grain bagel. Both items, along with fruit and yogurt parfaits, are designed for diners in a hurry.

Although likely created as snacks, grain, nut and fiber bars have evolved into quick-hit, portable meals easily consumed anywhere. In a 2014 Nielsen report titled, “Breakfast: Still The Most Important Meal of the Day,” researchers found that combined sales of granola and yogurt bars totaled $2.4 billion in 2013 and were growing at a combined annual rate of 4 percent per year.

Customers of multiple corporate and college cafeterias operated by Warren, Ohio-based AVI Foodsystems want filling meals that are also nutritious. According to Pasquale LaRocca, AVI’s manager of strategic marketing and branding, portability is huge for employees at its corporate cafeteria at Westinghouse in Cranberry, Pa. There, 90 percent of breakfast orders are packaged to go. Sales of egg white-only sandwiches are growing, as are sales of its yogurt and granola bars.

In response to this health trend, Food manufacturers like Mondelēz have developed nutritious packaged options for consumers on the go. For example, belVita breakfast bars provide 4 hours of nutritious steady energy and are a great part of a balanced breakfast.

“In line with trends, we notice many students taking advantage of smaller snack-size selections,” says LaRocca, referring to the cafeteria at Goshen College in Goshen, Ind. “Some popular portable selections include fresh muffins, smoothies and breakfast burritos.” Slices of the company’s grab-and-go breakfast pizzas have sold well, as have its sausage biscuits, he adds.

At three-unit Between the Bread in New York City, health-conscious workers dashing to office jobs can get fresh basics such as its house-made granola bars, or specialty items such as a pureed acai bowl topped with shredded coconut and granola. The shops also serve an overnight-soaked almond milk oatmeal with fruit toppings. The, dish, served cold, includes rolled oats softened in almond milk. Once ordered by a guest, it’s topped with local honey and fruit, and served to go in under a minute.

According to Between the Bread vice president Jon Eisen, all ingredients and nutritional information on its menu are posted for customers to see.

“We want them to know that the food they’re getting is clean, healthy, fresh and good for them,” Eisen says. “We know they’re in a hurry, so we make things almost to the point of being finished so they can look at the menu board and be out quickly.”

Pinkberry New England, an 11-unit, Boston-based franchise group of the 250-unit frozen Greek yogurt chain, has been charged with testing that company’s burgeoning breakfast program, launched in 2015. Eager to create sales in a normally slow daypart for frozen yogurt providers, chief executive Trippe Lonian’s team worked to create grab-and-go breakfast items that utilized the existing service process for yogurt sales.

“Just like a customer chooses his frozen yogurt and tells us how to top it, now they choose oatmeal or quinoa,” Lonian says. “And instead of gummi bears or candy, we’re topping it with fresh fruit or honey or whatever else they want.”

The stores also sell baked muffins, which Lonian said are top sellers in stores located in high-foot traffic locations, such as the city’s train station. The cost of Pinkberry’s breakfast items is about $5 each.

While Lonian believes customers appreciate the healthful items, he believes speed of service is likely their top reason for coming.

“We’re never going to compete with Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald’s on variety,” he says, “but we can get into the game and give people a high-quality item fast.”