Everybody loves breakfast—except millennials

Breakfast in the college and university market makes up the smallest percentage of total business, at 23%.

Breakfast, it would appear, is considered to be an important meal by most people—except for college students. At many universities students continue to eschew the morning meal, at least in campus foodservice outlets, while in other segments breakfast continues to enjoy healthy, even growing, participation.

According to The Big Picture research, in the college and university market breakfast makes up the smallest percentage of total business, at 23%. By comparison, the oldest generation seems to place more stock in breakfast, with fully one-third of total foodservice in senior living facilities occurring at breakfast.
In addition, more college foodservice personnel (12%) than those in any other segment reported that breakfast participation declined during the last two years.

Only 5% of all respondents reported a decrease in the morning meal in the past two years. Yet, overall 52% of respondents reported an increase in breakfast in the past two years.

This is nothing new to most college foodservice directors, who for several years have talked about the decline in breakfast participation.

“To students, breakfast isn’t a daypart anymore,” says Camp Howard, director of dining services at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn. “Instead, it’s a type of food that can be eaten at any time of day, like smoothies at 10 p.m. or pancakes at midnight. Late night is very popular with our students.”

Indeed, colleges are the most likely of any segment to offer either a full or limited breakfast menu all day, at 39%. At Penn State University’s Altoona campus, for instance, there is a station in the residence hall cafeteria called Sunrise-Sunset at which breakfast items are served from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“There is a core of students who want a full breakfast, but most just want coffee and a muffin or bagel, something quick to grab and go,” adds Howard, who notes that the wake-up time for students can range from “7 a.m. to noon.”

Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, is another director who has seen the shift from early morning to late night.

“Overall, in our three dining commons, we’re probably feeding about 4,000 to 5,000 students at breakfast,” he says, “mainly between 10 to 11 a.m. Our 7 a.m. to 9 or 10 a.m. is relatively light. On the other hand, 9 p.m. to midnight business is growing tremendously.”

The segments reporting the largest growth in breakfast participation in the past two years are B&I (70%) and schools (66%). In many districts the growth is occurring because the districts or state boards of education are placing more marketing efforts on the morning meal.

For example, the state of Illinois began The School Breakfast Challenge last April. Schools’ breakfast participation will be monitored for the first half of the year and then compared to the second half. Those with the largest percentage increases in average daily breakfast participation rates will receive monetary awards.

Pam Webber, foodservice director for Community School District 205, Galesburg, Ill., where 18% of students eat breakfast at school, says the department’s efforts to convince students that eating breakfast is important to learning seems to be paying off. She says that in September 2011 800 students ate breakfast in school, compared with 860 students this September.

Also contributing to breakfast growth in schools are breakfast in the classroom programs, which make it easier for students to participate because it occurs right before class time.

Diana Goode, foodservice director for the Wellington (Ohio) Exempted Village Schools, says her district has seen a slight increase in participation since breakfast in the classroom was introduced. “It’s almost seamless for us, and it’s a nice way for the kids to start the day,” Goode says.

In the B&I segment, strong breakfast business may be attributed to a change in work habits among employees at companies where 9-to-5 is no longer the rule.
Gary Coutre, general manager for Sodexo at Seimens Industry Inc., Buffalo Grove, Ill., says flex time for Siemens’ employees has an impact on breakfast participation.

“Our breakfast participation fluctuates because of flex time, but it has remained pretty steady and strong,” says Coutre. “We’ve seen a core of people who like to come into work earlier, and they tend to grab breakfast to take back to their offices. There are other employees who may start a little later, and they sit down to eat before they start their day.” 

Fast Facts

98% of operators offer breakfast.