Foodservice outlets are helping to drive — and then capitalizing on — greater consumer interest in breakfast meats.

Indeed, chains of all sizes are launching options that are intended to meet consumers’ growing demand for proteins that are convenient and tasty.

Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based food and foodservice research and consulting firm, notes that 56 percent of breakfast entrées on the menus of the top 500 restaurant chains feature a protein, a 12 percent increase over the past five years.

“Restaurants are seeing breakfast as a big driver of traffic,” says Lizzy Freier, Technomic menu analysis editor. “More operators are starting to offer options that are geared to on-the-go customers, including people on the way to work who want to be in and out in a few minutes. A lot of innovation is occurring in quick service restaurants, which includes offering items with healthier ingredients,” Freier says.

Chick-fil-A, for instance, with more than 1,800 locations in 40 states and Washington, D.C., in August began testing new breakfast menu entrées in greater Philadelphia, middle Georgia, Memphis and Inland Empire, Calif. The Atlanta-based chain’s offerings include Egg White Chicken Grill, a breakfast portion of chicken with a hint of citrus flavor, stacked with freshly grilled egg whites and American cheese, and served on a toasted multigrain English muffin.

Chick-fil-A also is testing Chicken & Waffle, a breakfast portion of boneless chicken breast that is hand-breaded, pressure-cooked in peanut oil and served alongside a warm Belgian-style waffle with a caramelized sugar crunch. The company reports the items were developed in response to customers asking for products that are health conscious and easily portable.

That enhanced desire for portability is resulting in greater rollouts of breakfast sandwiches.

Breakfast sandwiches are on 61.7 percent of restaurant menus, a 14 percent increase over the past eight years, reports Datassential Menu Trends. Datassential tracks about 4,800 foodservice operations, including chains, independents, quick service, fast casual, midscale and fine dining locations.

The greatest growth is occurring in casual and midscale restaurants, where the number of menus with breakfast sandwiches has grown 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively, over the last eight years, according to Datassential Menu Trends.

In July, Denver-based midscale chain Village Inn, with more than 200 locations in the Rocky Mountain region, Midwest, Arizona and Florida, launched the Good Start Sandwich featuring two hickory smoked bacon strips, sliced deli ham, American cheese and two scrambled eggs on toasted bread.

Among the smaller chains leveraging breakfast sandwiches is Honey Dew Donuts, a Plainville, Mass.-based coffee and donut shop operator with more than 140 locations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. In September, the operator launched the Country Breakfast Burger, featuring an all-beef burger topped with a fried egg and melted cheddar cheese in a toasty cheddar biscuit.

Other recent launches include Tim Horton’s rollout in July of a scrambled egg omelet with melted cheese and sausage in either a maple biscuit or maple flatbread. The Oakville, Ontario-based operator of about 5,300 outlets in Canada and the U.S. also introduced its Angus Steak and Egg Breakfast Sandwich.

Lakewood, Colo.-based Einstein Bros. Bagels, with more than 700 locations nationwide, this year rolled out its Santa Fe Turkey-Sausage Egg Sandwich, which also includes pepper jack cheese and jalapeno salsa on a bagel.

And Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell, with more than 6,000 outlets nationwide, in July began testing its Power Breakfast menu, which includes a Steak Bowl and Steak Burrito.

Taco Bell also offers the A.M. Crunchwrap, featuring either a sausage patty, steak or bacon in a tortilla with scrambled eggs, hash browns and cheddar cheese. In addition, a Waffle Taco contains either a sausage patty or bacon with scrambled eggs and cheese, and a Grilled Breakfast Burrito contains either sausage or bacon in a tortilla with scrambled eggs, pico de gallo and nacho cheese sauce.

Burritos are an increasingly popular option with the item offered at 25 percent of restaurants that serve breakfast, says Jana Mann, senior director for Datassential Menu Trends.

“Mexican influence is a big trend,” Mann says. “Burritos used to just be associated with lunch and dinner, but consumers can now get breakfast burritos as well as breakfast tacos in many locations.” Such items often contain sausage and ham.

Other increasingly popular Mexican-inspired options include chorizo in burritos and omelets.

The greater prominence of breakfast pizza on restaurant menus, meanwhile, also is spurring the added use of meat as an ingredient.

Huntington Beach, Calif.-based BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, which has 155 locations in 18 states, for instance, offers a breakfast pizza containing a bacon, ham and sausage omelet, as well as marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and parsley. 

Such options are being positioned as a way to entice more consumers to eat breakfast away from home. Just 17 percent of consumers currently dine out for the meal, Datassential reports.

Foodservice operators also are increasingly leveraging healthier proteins to generate added activity.

The Park Ridge, Ill.-based American Egg Board reports a 53 percent increase in breakfast menu penetration of turkey bacon since 2010, as well as a 39 percent increase in breakfast menu penetration of turkey sausage.

  “There is a huge opportunity to get people to make a change,” Mann says. “Offering fresh and high-quality proteins will be an incentive, but taste will be the key. Restaurants that reflect trends in the marketplace are moving to bring creativity to menus.” 

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