The majority (64 percent) of U.S. breakfast eaters think a healthy breakfast should be high in protein, finds Chicago-based Mintel International’s Breakfast Foods — U.S. report, published in July 2018. Even better, 51 percent of U.S. breakfast eaters eat breakfast meats such as bacon for breakfast on the weekend, while 41 percent eat it during the week.

In Mintel’s Poultry — U.S. report published in December 2018, the research firm also found that 13 percent of U.S. protein eaters have eaten chicken for breakfast in the last year, 11 percent have eaten turkey for breakfast and 19 percent have eaten red meat for breakfast.

“Breakfast tends to be one of the more functional meals that we have,” says Shelley Balanko, senior vice president of the Hartman Group, in Bellevue, Wash. “With that, consumers are prioritizing certain meats. They are really focused on health and wellness, getting themselves woken up and having sustained satiety until lunch. Protein is something that consumers turn to for those kinds of needs, and protein is still a major macro nutrient trend.”

In addition, consumers’ pallets are shifting away from solely sweet breakfast to becoming a little bit more savory, which bodes well for meat and poultry breakfast products, Balanko says.

Chicago-based IRI also sees two major trends at breakfast for protein and indulgent, which both benefit meat and poultry breakfast item sales, says Greg Stientjes, IRI’s senior vice president and team leader at Conagra Brands. While the indulgent trend still incorporates sweeter offerings, consumers are looking for fuller flavors. This brings in the demand for meat and poultry items at breakfast with double bacon or double meat items, he says. For the past several years, IRI tracks that the bacon and sausage categories have bounced around between 1 to 2 percent growth, Stientjes says.

Additionally, high protein was the leading attribute (35 percent) consumers wanted when choosing frozen breakfast foods, followed by individually packaged, low/no sugar and no additives/preservatives, according to Mintel’s Frozen Breakfast Foods — U.S. report published in July.

While frozen handheld sandwiches account for about 55 percent of the estimated $2 billion frozen handheld breakfast category, the category is seeing several new forms and new varieties, particularly with Latin flavors, such as breakfast tacos and empanadas, says IRI’s Stientjes. Consumers are looking for variety, beyond a typical bacon and egg sandwich, that is more convenient and/or more flavorful in general, which plays on their indulgent demands.

“Really finding those new forms is what seems to be driving growth among consumers,” Stientjes says.


Protein competition

The protein category also has changed substantially during the past few years, says Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights in Duiven, The Netherlands.

“There is a lot more protein competition at the breakfast table,” she explains. “Greek yogurt was a game-changer, and the fast rise of plant-based alternatives is changing to the meat category into the protein category. Europe is far ahead of the U.S., but it is catching up fast.”

With consumers thinking more critically about what they are eating, they are less likely to be compromising their food values as they might have in years past.

“They’re looking for a quick, convenient breakfast, but they don’t want to sacrifice quality, so they’re looking for fresher, less-processed options,” Balanko says.

Consumers also are open to experimentation at breakfast.

“We are starting to see consumers do a little bit of experimentation with more global flavors at breakfast time certainly not to the extent that they would at dinner, but that’s the general trend that consumers are going toward,” Balanko says. “That would be good news for bowls and burritos that really speak to the atypical American breakfast.”

Looking at recent launches in the breakfast meat category, Innova’s top trend this year is “Discovery — the Adventurous Consumer,” which translates into innovative flavor development in breakfast foods. For example, Innova has tracked the release of Oscar Mayer Cracked Black Pepper Fully Cooked Bacon Thick Cut, Jennie O Blueberry Turkey Bacon, Kroger Fully Cooked Maple Breakfast Meatballs, Banquet Brown’ N Serve Vermont Maple Fully Cooked Sausage Links and Tribali Foods Pork and Sage Mini Sliders. 

“Maple is a big winner, having long been associated with breakfast and as a sweet addition to bacon,” Williams says.

In addition, breakfast sandwiches are popular among consumers because they are usually warm and protein rich — usually a thick piece of meat as opposed to a slice of ham — and offer something different from burgers or traditional sandwiches, she adds.

As far as new formats at breakfast, the category has introduced breakfast sliders, meatballs and breakfast cups, Williams says.

Perhaps the most notable innovation is the move to products with a health halo either as a product with a clean label and/or natural appeal and also plant-based, Williams says. Innova has tracked sugar-free sausages launched along with quite a lot of turkey sausage and bacon innovation. In addition, free-from claims ranging from colors, artificial flavors and preservatives and antibiotics are growing. For example, in sausages, Applegate Naturals created No Sugar Chicken and Herb Breakfast Sausage, Butterball released All Natural Turkey Breakfast Sausage Patties and Nature’s Promise developed Free From Breakfast Pork Sausage.

“This is a clear move away from the association of breakfast meats as high fat and unhealthy,” she says.

Some of the emerging terms IRI is seeing are grass fed, free range, organically raised, humanely raised and vegetarian fed, Stientjes says. While meat and poultry items benefit from the demand for high protein at breakfast, consumers also want a quality, good source of protein, he says.

Being successful against plant-based protein alternatives at breakfast will require animal-based protein companies to connect to what consumers care about, and that’s high quality, the Hartman Group’s Balanko says.

“Quality really has to be communicated, because a lot of people are choosing to eat less meat, but higher quality meat — quality cuts and higher quality in terms of its production,” she says.

High quality refers to superior taste and nutrition of the meat and poultry product largely because of the care of production, how the animals were raised and how the product is processed along with care of the planet, factory worker, farm workers and end consumers, she says.

“If they can demonstrate and communicate care at all of those touch points, that would be the way to compete,” Balanko says. “Really the place where plant-based alternatives fall down, but not for all consumers, is on taste. A lot of consumers just prefer the real deal because of the taste offering. Taste is still king. We’re talking about food here, right?”


Breakfast on menus

All-day breakfast menus are having an impact on consumer behavior. For example, 30 percent of breakfast consumers say they are buying breakfast fare outside of morning hours more often as a result of extended or all-day breakfast menus, according to Chicago-based Technomic, a Winsight Co.’s 2017 Breakfast Consumer Trend Report.

Among these consumers, 51 percent say they are trying items they typically get in the morning more frequently outside of morning hours, and 38 percent say they are visiting new concepts for breakfast fare outside of morning hours, Technomic reports.

As with retail, plant-based proteins are growing at breakfast in restaurants as well. For example, Burger King, Tim Horton’s and Dunkin’ have all introduced breakfast sandwiches with plant-based protein.

“While plant-based proteins are trending, innovation is still occurring around regular breakfast meats,” says Anne Mills, Technomic’s senior manager of consumer insights.

The fastest-growing proteins in sales at breakfast from second quarter 2018 to second quarter 2019 among the Top 500 and emerging restaurant chains, according to Technomic, are:
Canadian bacon (+13 percent)
Smoked salmon (+8.5 percent)
Corned beef (+3.7 percent)
Fried chicken (+3.2 percent)
Chicken sausage (+2 percent)

For example, Dunkin’ debuted the Sweet BBQ Bacon Breakfast Sandwich. The new limited-time sandwich features egg and cheese with extra bacon coated in a sweet barbecue seasoning. Bywater American Bistro, in New Orleans, also offers Breakfast Corndogs with cane syrup, and Over Easy menus in Gilbert, Ariz., feature Golden Waffle Dogs, which are three sausage links dipped in vanilla waffle batter than fried.

Mills thinks restaurants need to focus on better-for-you proteins that are natural or minimally processed and on innovation to keep meat and poultry products growing at breakfast.


Moving Beyond Morning

The majority of U.S. consumers (92 percent) eat breakfast on weekdays while 95 percent consume breakfast on the weekend, Mintel found in Breakfast Foods — U.S. published in July 2018.

While dinner is still the meal Americans associate with socialization and building family bonds, because of the stresses of modern life communal dinner usually falls short of their expectations.

“What we’re seeing consumers do is actually do a makeup,” Balanko says. “They make up for the fact that their communal dinner has been less than satisfying all week with a communal breakfast. So we’re seeing families prioritize breakfast on the weekend together, and it’s also being brunchified.”

“The weekend breakfast is also something beloved by many consumers, and this is an opportunity to create a differentiated product for other parts of the day,” Innova’s Williams says.

Still, survey data published in Packaged Facts’ study Eating Trends: Mealtimes and Snacking, published in June, finds that as of 2018, in terms of the three main meals, a far higher share of adults consider breakfast to be the most important meal of the day compared with lunch or dinner. Even so, the percentage considering breakfast to be most important has edged downward since 2008, with lunch and dinner each gaining more priority. Packaged Facts research also found that the percentage of adults who eat several smaller meals throughout the day edged up slightly from 2008 to 2018. The data further reveals a modest, but marked trend toward eating meals later. Between 2008 and 2018, a slight drop in the percentage of adults who eat breakfast before 9 a.m. occurred.

The Hartman Group also found in a 2017 study that 56 percent of consumers skip breakfast once a week. The current trend of intermittent fasting, an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating to promote health and/or weight loss, can involve skipping breakfast and other meals, Balanko says.

In turn, Innova has tracked the success of all-day breakfast and as the role of snacking has moved into a fourth-meal culture, opportunity exists for protein to move with breakfast into other day parts.

“Protein has the advantage of very little baggage,” Williams says. “We see a distinction between ‘good carbs’ (sweet potatoes and brown rice) and ‘bad carbs’ (white potatoes and white rice) but protein doesn’t have the same challenge from a health point of view. It has benefited from the lifestyle eating trend and is beloved by consumers who want to feel full, watch their weight, improve their appearance and have a healthier snack.”

With 50 percent of all eating occasions being snacks, Balanko recommends manufacturers create snacks from typical breakfast items. This means developing more portable, more convenient products in smaller sizes to further increase sales.

“In order to stay competitive, folks who have been playing in breakfast need to think about how their offerings can play on breakfast-adjacent occasions like an early morning snack or a late-morning snack,” Balanko says. “They would also need to think about how they offer a competitive advantage over plant-based options, and largely that’s going to be on taste.”

Many consumers are moving toward having an early morning snack, a midmorning snack, late-morning snack and then something that resembles lunch.

“We are seeing a lot of growth in the early morning snack,” Balanko says.

An opportunity in this area is breakfast meal kits, Balanko says. For example, meal-kit companies have begun to offer indulgent, lighter options, both in sweet and savory flavors, in classic American and global recipes.

“The rules around meals and snacks have totally blurred,” she says. “No longer is a snack something that you would find in the snacking aisle as identified by your grocer. A snack can be anything you want. Breakfast can be anything you want. It’s just time of day. With the trend toward more and more snackification of our eating overall, the traditional ‘breakfast’ may only exist on weekends in the future.” NP