Eating the competition's lunch at breakfast

breakfast muffins in a cafeteria line

From Kellogg’s® Specialty Channels.

With breakfast expected to grow to at least $35 billion by 2018, according to Mintel, operators should expect competition during the morning daypart to only grow fiercer. Non-commercial operators who maximize their menus to meet the needs of consumers looking for portability and value, convenience and healthier options will find they can better compete with quick-service and even fast-casual chains and grab a larger share of those breakfast food dollars—morning, noon or night.

Here’s a look at five key things consumers look for on breakfast menus.

Convenience and portability

Breakfast sandwiches still reign among busy breakfast eaters with convenience and value top of mind. In fact, 42 percent of breakfast menus throughout the country offer a breakfast sandwich, according to Food Genius, a Chicago-based food and menu research firm.

But operators should think about grab-and-go options beyond just the standard egg-and-cheese. “Paninis, wraps and burritos have had a great run in just the last 18 months,” says Justin Massa, Food Genius’ co-founder and CEO. Additionally, a growing number of quick-service chains are experimenting with other types of carriers, such as waffles, flatbreads or more gourmet pretzel buns.

“Non-commercial operators who look at convenience as a strategy will find more sources of innovation, even in terms of grab-and-go packaging,” says Massa, citing yogurt parfait containers with toppings in a separate compartment.

Protein, protein and more protein

Above all else, “protein is what comes up again and again,” says Massa, who notes that consumers seem to want heartier breakfast items to last them through the morning—or even as a lunchtime replacement.

Thus, the payoff potential of menuing items that are protein-dense but healthy, such as breakfast sandwiches incorporating egg whites, turkey and low-fat cheese, is big for operators.

According to Mary Chapman, senior director of product innovation for Chicago-based research firm Technomic, millennials in particular want a variety of healthy options. “Younger consumers are interested in alternative breakfast proteins, such as turkey and chicken-based proteins as well as plant-based, vegetarian options like veggie burgers,” she says.

What’s more, daypart doesn’t matter in terms of when these protein-packed foods are eaten. According to Chapman, 48 percent of consumers say they enjoy breakfast foods at non-traditional times. Operators should consider offering healthier breakfast items during lunch and dinner as well as starting lunch hours earlier to maximize both morning daypart and overall sales.

Healthy cold choices

When it comes to cold breakfast foods, 80 percent of consumers reach for fresh fruit, protein bars, bagels and a variety of yogurt-based products such as Greek yogurt and parfaits, both in the early and late morning hours as snacks, according to a breakfast research study conducted by Kellogg’s. Women aged 45 to 74, otherwise known as “regiment breakfast eaters,” tend to seek these fresh, wholesome and healthier options over others, the study found.

Consumers also increasingly look for hearty beverages such as smoothies, grab-and-go protein shakes and liquid breakfast drinks. Operators who offer these types of beverages can menu them as standalone morning meals or as part of a breakfast combo.

Global offerings

Thirty percent of consumers are open to trying ethnic foods in the morning, according to Technomic. “We’ve seen Latin American flavors in particular growing meaningfully at breakfast,” says Massa.

By incorporating bold and unexpected flavors into traditional breakfast dishes, or by menuing ethnic-inspired dishes such as chilaquiles or breakfast bao, operators can appeal to consumers seeking flavor boosts during breakfast.


Aside from convenience, breakfast items still need to be inexpensive, or operators risk losing their business to home-based meals, according to Chapman.

Breakfast combos—namely, those that pair foods with a beverage—can help build sales. But combo meals can’t just be about price—according to Chapman, “freshness and quality with the coffee or beverage has to be there." As such, non-commercial operators who invest in gourmet hot beverage programs might find a boost in sales.

To start optimizing your morning daypart sales, visit

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