June 1, 2003

13 Min Read
Awakening           New Breakfast Ideas

June 2003

Awakening New Breakfast Ideas

By Nancy Backas
Contributing Editor

The old adage that everything that goes around, comes around could easily apply to breakfast. Eggs, bacon and toast reigned as breakfast staples until Americans, concerned about dietary fat, discovered the bagel. This discovery, coupled with more-hectic lifestyles, changed the landscape of the morning meal. Now it seems, at least for the time being, that bacon and eggs are back in vogue. And that return to old favorites isnt confined to the home kitchen.

Competition for the away-from-home breakfast dollar is clearly steep. Marketers who pay attention to the need for speed and serve foods that meet the desires of todays population will capture the breakfast-food dollar. Food manufacturers who provide operators with carry-out products that are easy to serve and prepare, or deliver less-labor-intensive methods to prepare popular breakfast items, can emerge as winners in this tough market.

Whats healthy?
Before confusing research argued about what Americans should or shouldnt eat, and before lives became high speed, a full breakfast of eggs, meat, and toast or pancakes with syrup was common. Somewhere along the way that all changed, and breakfast became a cereal bar and a gulp of juice or a skim latte with a bagel.

The tide might be shifting. According to a recent study by NPD FoodWorld CREST (Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends) conducted in 2002 by The NPD Group, Inc., Port Washington, NY, the traditional breakfast is making a comeback. In 2002, consumers ate eggs, egg dishes (most often scrambled) and bacon more often than in 1998, the last time NPD conducted this survey. Harry Balzer, vice president with NPD Groups food-consulting service, speculates the increase in bacon and egg consumption may be at least in part attributed to the popularity of high-protein diets, such as the Atkins diet.

In the NPD study, 2,000 participants kept daily food diaries for two weeks. Top breakfast foods consumed in 2002, ranked in order were: ready-to-eat cereal, bread/toast, fruit, eggs/omelets, hot cereal, pancakes/waffles/French toast, bacon, bagel, sausage and sandwiches. The study charted a high number of breakfast skippers 50 of the 2,000 people, or 14% of the study participants who reported they didnt eat breakfast at all, most of them ages 18 to 34. In addition, the survey found that 77% of breakfasts are still eaten at home, with 3% purchased at restaurants and carried home. And 12% overall said they ate breakfast away from home: 3% ate at a restaurant, 6% on the run, 2% at school and/or work, and 1% were guests at someones home.

Some of todays trends rely on what people perceive as healthful. For example, in the past, health professionals offered different opinions about egg consumption. Now, however, they seem to be on the same page. Low-carb proponents, such as the late Dr. Robert Atkins, have encouraged egg consumption, but other groups with a more moderate, balanced view of dietary needs, such as the Chicago-based American Dietetic Association (ADA), only recently agreed that increased egg consumption is not necessarily a bad thing.

Eggs are nutritional powerhouses, providing some of the highest-quality protein. They are low in saturated fat, in addition to being one of the few non-dairy sources of vitamin D. Eggs also contain a highly bioavailable source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, shown to help prevent age-related macular degeneration.

Regardless of the food consumed, health professionals do agree that breakfast is an important meal. USDA studies demonstrate that eating virtually anything in the morning improves memory and learning. The same study showed that those who dont eat breakfast are twice as likely to be depressed and four times more prone to anxiety. Eating breakfast is also tied to better weight control, and breakfast eaters take in more nutrients, especially calcium, iron, zinc, B vitamins and fiber. Nutritionists say that those who skip breakfast never make up for those lost nutrients during the day.

Whos serving what?
While consumers might be eating breakfast away from home a bit less often than before, the average breakfast check increased 2% from 2001 to 2002, according to NPD/CREST. Americans eat breakfast away from home 17% of the time, compared to 34% each for the lunch and supper dayparts. Consumers opt most for mid-scale restaurants when breakfasting away from home (25%), compared to quick-service restaurant (QSR) breakfast (18%) and fast-casual dining venues (4%).

Mid-scale restaurants win partly because of the variety of options they offer. Breakfast is a particularly personal meal and everyone wants what they want, how they want it. IHOP Restaurants®, owned by IHOP Corp., Glendale, CA, has been serving breakfast anytime for more than 40 years and achieves this level of success in part because the chain continues to enliven its menu. The buttermilk pancake remains its signature menu item, but omelets, classic egg breakfasts and French toast specialties are also popular.

Recently, the chain began two-month-long promotions in an effort to excite established customers and draw new patrons. In January and February, it ran the Never Ending Pancakes promotion, offering guests all the buttermilk pancakes they could eat for $3.99. Patrons received a stack of five pancakes, followed by stacks of three until satisfied. And in March and April, the company launched a limited-time Stuffed French Toast promotion, featuring whipped cream cheese inside a slice of cinnamon raisin bread that is dipped in French toast batter and grilled. Toppings offered included strawberries, blueberries and cinnamon apples.

First Watch Restaurants, Inc., (a chain started in northern California in 1983, now headquartered in Sarasota, FL, with locations throughout Florida, California and the Southwest) serves only breakfast, brunch and lunch, typically serving meals between 7 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Popular menu items include a variety of innovative omelets, as well as crepeggs tiny, sweet crêpes combined with fluffy whipped eggs. Both these meals are served with the restaurants signature potatoes and Bays® English muffins. French toast and five varieties of pancakes are also popular breakfast items. The corporate website highlights menu items suitable for patrons with special dietary concerns, such as gluten-free meals. Other unique offerings include a Fowl Play omelet, (smoked turkey and fresh spinach, topped with Jack cheese, hollandaise sauce and diced tomatoes) and pancake choices including banana crunch with granola, blueberry and Dutch apple.

Some operations, such as Big Boy Restaurants International, LLC, headquartered in Warren, MI, have garnered business by appealing to special clientele. A menu geared toward seniors runs Monday through Friday until 11 a.m., featuring lower-priced items for Senior Diners Club members. Club members can choose from two breakfasts priced at $2.99: two eggs, two strips of bacon, toast or hot cakes and coffee; or three hot cakes, two strips of bacon and coffee. Appealing to the weekday early crowd in search of a quick meal, Big Boy offers Priced Right mini-breakfasts lighter versions of popular menu items including Bake Shop Mini, a muffin of choice, orange juice and coffee; Egg n Bacon, one egg, two strips of bacon or sausage and buttered toast; Hot Cakes n Bacon, a short stack of hot cakes and two strips of bacon or sausage; and French Toast n Bacon, a slice of French toast and two strips of bacon or sausage.

On weekends, Big Boys All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast and Fruit Bar appeals to those who want a more leisurely meal. It includes scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage links, home-style potatoes, biscuits and fresh fruit. Some units also offer the bar during the week.

More upscale venues, such as Corner Bakery, owned by Brinker International Inc., Dallas, have also expanded breakfast fare beyond popular varieties of baked goods. New items include ham-and-egg breakfast panini, the Farmers Scrambler and frozen latte. While many opt to sit down at one of the companys restaurants for breakfast, its take-out items especially appeal to workers who grab breakfast on the way to the office.

QSRs have struggled for a while to maintain a share of the morning daypart. McDonalds Corp., Oak Brook, IL, changed the breakfast world when it introduced the Egg McMuffin®. Venues from full-service restaurants to schools and colleges have created their own versions of the companys innovative sandwich. The bacon, egg and cheese biscuit; ham, egg and cheese bagel; Spanish omelet bagel and the sausage breakfast burrito have since joined the McMuffin, still a popular menu choice.

The most popular breakfast item on the menu at Burger King Corp., headquartered in Miami, FL, is the Croissanwich®, which chews up a total of 297 million croissants every year and features egg and cheese, sausage and cheese, or sausage, egg and cheese. More recently, the company introduced sourdough breakfast sandwiches. St. Louis-based Hardees Food Systems, Inc. opted for the breakfast biscuit sandwich, with its newest offering the Loaded Omelet Biscuit packed with a blend of sausage, ham, bacon and shredded Cheddar cheese, folded into an egg and topped with a slice of American cheese.

The changing nature of in-flight meals has spurred some recent breakfast options. Many airlines no longer offer meals on shorter flights. However, US Airways, Arlington, VA, recently offered customers the opportunity to purchase gourmet deli-style meals on selected flights. In concert with Einstein Bros Bagels, Golden, CO, the $7 breakfast meal consists of coffee crumb cake, fresh mixed fruit with a cream-cheese fruit dip, raspberry Yoplait® yogurt and fruit juice.

Breakfast all day
Maybe the idea was initiated by restaurants such as IHOP and Dennys Corp., Spartanburg, SC, where breakfast is served all day long, or maybe its just that students have their own unique time clock, but breakfast on campuses has become an all-day affair or, at least, a late-morning-into-the-wee-hours-of-the-next-morning kind of thing. The idea might have stemmed from the fact that, on many campuses, as few as one-fifth of the students on a meal plan will eat breakfast on any given day. To combat this tendency, some colleges do serve later breakfast, or at least offer easy-to-carry items that students can eat on the way to class.

Michelle Gendreau, dining services director at San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, believes that a restructured meal period fits students lifestyles better, with breakfast now served from 9 to 11:30 a.m., lunch from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and dinner from 7:30 to 8 p.m. The cafeteria at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, experiences one of its busiest periods between 2 and 4 a.m., when breakfast items are particularly popular. At San Jose State, hot cinnamon rolls are popular as a late-night snack. The all-nighter is a tradition at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, where the student-run café in the Stratton Student Center has been in operation 24 hours a day since the 1970s. Known as The Coffeehouse, the center is easy to run, with all food preparation conducted off-site. Of course, coffee is king there. At the University of Kentucky, Lexington, a popular Tuesday Night Brunch program features made-to-order omelets and pancakes/waffles/ French toast, offered on a rotating basis.

The other end of the spectrum is Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, where, if students dont want to get up early, they can opt for the continental breakfast spread out for them in respective floor lounges. At West Virginia University, Morgantown, a free late-night buffet helps keep students out of bars and aids the school in combating its reputation as a party school. The buffet features many breakfast items, such as French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and a variety of doughnuts.

Students arent the only ones who like breakfast at nontraditional times. The Cortland Memorial Hospital, Cortland, NY, features breakfast foods as a special on lunch and dinner menus. At Seacrest Village, a Jewish retirement community in Encinitas, CA, retirees request omelets for lunch. And when the community offered more activities in the morning, seniors requested longer breakfast availability and had their breakfast time extended until 10 a.m., rather than the previous 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. time slot.

Baking breakfast products galore
The shortage of skilled labor today has created an ongoing need from foodservice operators for easy-to-prepare and serve products. Nowhere is this more important than for the breakfast daypart, where an even lower level of skill in the kitchen is common. Products that speak to this need for ease in preparation are invaluable to the breakfast operator.

Muffins became popular in the 80s and still command a lot of attention today, especially since consumers can easily grab one for a quick breakfast. Many companies, such as Rich Products Corp., Buffalo, NY; and Baker & Baker, Elk Grove Village, IL (through its Karps brand), offer a variety of scoop-and-bake muffins for easy preparation.

The Pillsbury Co., Minneapolis, just launched premixed baking dough, to allow operators to easily serve fresh baking-powder biscuits. Once thawed, the dough has a refrigerated shelf life of four days. The biscuits come in three flavors; sweet, Southern style and cheese Southern style, and can be turned into drop biscuits, coffeecakes, quiches, scones and biscuit sticks.

Ready-to-bake or proof-and bake-products can help operators serve just-baked goods to patrons. Rich Products cinnamon rolls, scone doughnuts and doughnuts are givens for breakfast, and pizza dough allows innovative cooks to create breakfast pizzas topped with egg and bacon or sugar and cinnamon. Many companies that offer specialty baking mixes will work with operations to develop signature products.

Some companies ship their products already baked and ready to serve. J. Frederick Jones discovered the scones he loved while living in Scotland and London, grew tired of scones that tasted like compressed sand and started Denver-based Jones Scones. The company makes moist, cakey scones with flavors such as cranberry, blueberry, apple and cinnamon, and ships them directly to operations throughout the United States.

The meat of the matter
Meat companies are getting on the bandwagon to create innovative breakfast alternatives. Jennie-O Turkey Store, Willmar, MN, manufactures breakfast turkey products, including Canadian-Style Turkey Ham, Country Recipe turkey-sausage patties, extra-lean turkey bacon and turkey breakfast-sausage links.

Hormel Foods, Austin, MN, just introduced a full line of flavorful, heat-and-serve proteins. For breakfast, Hormel introduced Jalapeño Bacon, a full-flavored bacon with a bite. Hormel also offers smokehouse bacon, Canadian bacon, pork-sausage links, cooked breakfast-sausage crumbles and sausage patties.

Todays market has a number of breakfast soy products for nonmeat eaters and those desiring to add more soy to their diets. Meat analogues, plant-based protein products that simulate the taste, texture and look of mainstream meat products, often derive their primary protein source from the soybean. ADM Nutrition, Decatur, IL, is one company with a line of soy sausage links and patties. Recent studies have pointed to soys positive effect on heart health.

The easiness of eggs
The resurgence of interest in eggs makes easy-to-prepare egg products especially welcome. Sunny Fresh Foods, Monticello, MN, offers a variety of egg entrées made with eggs, cheese, meat and vegetables. The individually prepared and proportioned items require only heating and serving. Products such as precooked scrambled eggs, breakfast wraps and egg patties make it possible for venues that could not previously serve eggs to do so.

Pasteurized egg products are especially valuable due to food-safety concerns. Many operations have stopped using in-shell eggs at all. And many others that do still serve eggs to order now offer a disclaimer if eggs are not requested fully cooked.

Serving eggs-zactly what the consumer wants always will remain a challenge, but savvy foodservice operators who stay a step ahead of the breakfast trends will find themselves sunny-side up in the marketplace.

Nancy Backas is a Chicago-based freelance writer and chef. She has been writing about the foodservice industry for 20 years and can be reached at [email protected].

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