The phrase “breakfast meats” is becoming a misnomer.

Although traditional breakfast selections such as bacon and sausage are morning staples, more shoppers consume the proteins at lunch and dinner, with many seeking exciting new flavors and varieties.

Interest in breakfast meats is increasing for all day parts, yet the morning remains consumption prime time, with the proteins gaining popularity, analysts say. 

Forty-one percent of people who eat breakfast on weekdays say they consume breakfast meats, as do 51 percent of consumers who eat breakfast on weekends, Mintel Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, reported in its July Breakfast Foods U.S. report. 

That embrace of breakfast meats helps lessen the reign of cereal as the main breakfast selection.

“The vast majority of breakfast meals are prepared and eaten at home, and while cereal dominates, there are opportunities for other dishes that include meats,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics, a San Antonio-based marketing research and strategies firm.

She notes while more consumers are replacing cereal with egg dishes, fruit and breakfast sandwiches, newer varieties of frozen and refrigerated breakfast meats will become increasingly prevalent as shoppers seek more proteins, including healthy and nutritious offerings and heat-and-eat selections.

A major challenge to expanding eating occasions for breakfast meat, however, is the need to change ingrained consumer eating habits, Roerink says. 

“While cereal consumption occasions have come down, cereal still dominates the American breakfast,” she says. “Many shoppers may not know about the innovation that is happening in the breakfast-meat space with frozen or refrigerated, nor about the prospect of serving breakfast meats for dinner.”


A role in all meals

Merchandisers can help boost the appeal of breakfast meat by spotlighting its potential in recipes and as an attractive protein for lunch or dinner, she says. Effective marketing vehicles include sales promotions, in-store samplings on weekend mornings, distribution of recipe cards and having store associates highlight the positive attributes of breakfast meat and its wider application across all day parts, Roerink says.

Helping to spur consumption of breakfast meats throughout the day, meanwhile, is the large base of Millennials who are pushing for interesting flavors while seeking added protein in their diets, she says.

In response, breakfast meat suppliers are rolling out more diverse flavors.

Apple pecan, for instance, was the largest selling bacon flavor last year, followed by apple asiago, applesauce, apple mustard, American cheese, apple raisin, alpine, apple cranberry, aged cheddar and apple chipotle, says Brittany Bailey, director of market insights for the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board (NPB).

Top flavors for sausage, meanwhile, include mild and maple, she notes, adding that NPB research found that consumers’ affinity for pork sausage and bacon is greater than for meats overall.

“So, fortunately, retailers don’t have to do much to merchandise them because they sell themselves,” Bailey says.

Unique and bold-tasting selections will become increasingly important as 28 percent of consumers like new flavors, while elevated offerings featuring premium meats, ingredients or flavored varieties may help consumers who are looking for diversity as well as brands looking to cast a wider net of occasions, Mintel shows in its October 2017 Hot Dogs and Sausages U.S. report.

Bailey, meanwhile, forecasts increasing growth over the next few years for products with such claims as “humanely raised,” “fresh,” “all natural” and “premium.”

Attributes on packages that enhance the appeal of breakfast meats are important as shopper health worries and the overall price volatility of beef and pork are likely to have an impact on breakfast meat purchase activity, Mintel reports.

Nevertheless, 73 percent of consumers already buy sausages and/or hot dogs and half buy more than one type of product, “suggesting that diversity is enjoyed and allowing brands the potential to expand occasions, types or uses that may increase purchase frequency,” Mintel reports.

In a July 2017 Mintel online survey of 2,000 adults, 42 percent of respondents indicated they bought breakfast sausage in the previous six months, with 26 percent of the items red meat, 18 percent poultry and 10 percent meat alternatives.

A Mintel online survey of 1,452 adults found 37 percent of respondents who had bought breakfast sausage or hot dogs in the previous six months reported eating the items for breakfast, while 36 percent reported eating them as a side dish with breakfast.

In addition, 30 percent of respondents reported they would prefer products with no added nitrates or nitrites, 24 percent favored hormone-free selections, 18 percent preferred low- or no-fat items, 17 percent favored organic options and 9 percent preferred gluten-free products.


Go the wellness way

Such health-oriented selections can help change shoppers’ attitudes toward breakfast meats, as many perceive popular selections such as bacon and sausage to be indulgences, says Jackie Rodriguez, senior project manager at Datassential, a Chicago-based food research firm.

Even shoppers who regularly consume breakfast meats are often wary of the products, with Mintel reporting nearly a third of purchasers worry about meat quality and a quarter indicating they perceive items as unhealthy.

Rodriguez says retailers can help offset such concerns by offering lighter options that still offer a craveable flavor profile, such as turkey or chicken sausage, and merchandising meal solutions that contain traditional breakfast meats along with items containing healthy ingredients, including vegetables in an omelet or whole grain in breakfast sandwiches.

“Claims that demonstrate the absence of demonized ingredients like nitrates and nitrites may increase the odds that a brand is perceived as better for you, or premium, or both,” Mintel reports. “Brands that launch products made with poultry may also be perceived by some consumers as healthier as nearly a quarter of hot dog and sausage buyers agree that poultry options are better for you than red meat options.”

Among breakfast meat shoppers, younger people are most interested in healthier poultry products, while older consumers tend to favor traditional breakfast meats such as bacon and ham, says Charles Winship, senior research analyst at Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm.

Mintel notes positioning meats as premium with ingredients and claims that hint at healthiness, “may be an ideal combination that activates some non-users and keeps consumers engaged and perhaps even more so in the category.”

The unhealthy stigmas of processed meats, Mintel adds, “may be tempered by communicating an element of premium through free-from claims, ingredient integrity and flavor while remaining true to the core strengths of the product.”

Rodriguez agrees, noting retailers have the opportunity to boost breakfast meat sales by merchandising items with premium attributes, given two-thirds of consumers say they are interested in proteins that are all-natural, antibiotic-free and hormone-free, and such claims as grass fed or pasture raised also appeal to many shoppers.

“Highlighting premium quality could help justify higher price points on value-added items like breakfast bowls or biscuits,” she says.

The marketing of nontraditional breakfast proteins also will elevate interest in the category, Rodriguez says. Ideas include items with a Latin twist, such as breakfast steak with chimichurri sauce, and situating breakfast meats on new food platforms, including savory pastries and French toast sandwiches.


Easy does it

Ease of preparation is another strong breakfast meat selling point, with Mintel noting “opportunity for growth exists for products that communicate versatility and convenience for occasions small and large.”

Addressing consumers’ fears it can take a long time to prepare breakfast meats can spur demand for products, Winship says.

“The weekday breakfast is often on-the-go and consumers want something quick and easy, so they often opt for non-meat options like baked goods or granola bars,” he says. “There also is a general shift toward more plant-based options that are meat free but still high in protein, such as avocados.” 

Breakfast meats that merchandisers can emphasize as being fast and easy to prepare include pre-portioned sausage patties and links, Rodriguez says. 

She says Millennials will likely spur the development of additional options because the shopper segment is more “trend-forward” and receptive to newer breakfast dishes, such as a croque madame sandwich — made with ham, eggs and cheese — and with selections that have lower fat, cholesterol and calories.

“Portability also is important and they will be drawn more to handhelds like breakfast burritos and tacos,” Rodriguez says. NP


A greater foodservice force

Along with the expansion of breakfast meat varieties in retail outlets for in-home preparation, selections are becoming increasingly prevalent on restaurant breakfast menus.

Breakfast meats appearing on more menus include prime rib (up 58.3 percent in menu listings over the last year), short ribs (a 30 percent gain) and lobster (a 21.4 percent increase), reports Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm.

Also more widely available is brisket (up 13.9 percent in menu listings), pulled pork (a 10.7 percent increase), ground beef (a 9.7 percent gain), chorizo (up 3.6 percent) and fried chicken (a 3.5 percent increase).

Global influences also are leading to menu alterations, says Jackie Rodriguez, senior project manager at Datassential, a Chicago-based food research firm, noting chorizo appears on 27 percent of breakfast menus, a 13 percent increase over the past four years.

A trend toward brunch, meanwhile, is giving restaurant operators more opportunity to offer expensive proteins and enabling meats that are typically reserved for lunch and dinner to appear on breakfast menus, says Charles Winship, Technomic senior research analyst. Such items include

pork belly, pork shoulder and cured meats, including mortadella, Rodriguez says.

“Interest in breakfast beyond just the morning day part is widening options for breakfast meats,” she says, noting Datassential research found nearly half of consumers who have eaten a breakfast item later in the day attribute their interest to craveability. Such selections include bacon, which can be used as an ingredient in a range of offerings including burgers and salads, Rodriguez notes.

Also triggering the availability of more and diverse breakfast meats is the growth in full-service restaurant chains specializing in breakfast, while greater overall consumer interest in having breakfast meats at full-service restaurants is leading to the launch of more upscale offerings, Winship says.

He adds health and uniqueness will drive breakfast innovation for the next few years. Products with clean labels, as well as ethnic selections and mash-ups, will become more prevalent.