Morning convenience with coffee on the side

by Allison Sebolt
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Consumers who turn to food service restaurants for breakfast will more than likely order some type of hand-held sandwich they may eat while on the go to the day’s activities. In addition, consumers want such food earlier and earlier.

"The traditional hours of breakfast as we know it have certainly expanded because as customers commute times become longer, people are multi-tasking more," said Danya Proud, McDonald’s spokesperson. "People’s days today look different than they did 5, 10, 15 years ago."

As a result, McDonald’s, Oak Brook, Ill., is serving breakfast earlier. Ms. Proud said while McDonald’s restaurants stop serving breakfast at 10:30 a.m., many are opening at 5 a.m. or earlier or staying open 24 hours.

In addition, convenience and value have become important criteria for breakfast consumers, Ms. Proud said.

"Consumers are prepared to eat out at breakfast, but they want just as good of value as they know they can get the rest of the day," Ms. Proud said.

For McDonald’s, breakfast is 30% of overall business, and drive-through is about 70% of that.

The McMuffin and McGriddles are top sellers for the McDonald’s breakfast menu. Breakfast burritos are popular, too, and Ms. Proud said anything that may be eaten hand-held on the go is generally popular. In addition, Ms. Proud said many apple dippers are bought during the breakfast time frame, possibly to be eaten immediately or saved for later in the day.

Coffee is a significant driver of growth for morning business at McDonald’s as well. After the restaurant chain upgraded its premium roast coffee blend in 2006, coffee sales grew dramatically for McDonald’s.

"Customers had previously been visiting us for their favorite breakfast sandwiches, now they are visiting us for coffee … we were seeing an incremental drive in business because of the coffee business," Ms. Proud said. "That business continues to grow."

One of the newest breakfast items on the McDonald’s menu is the Southern Style Chicken biscuit, which was developed in an effort to bring chicken to the breakfast menu.

According to research company Mintel International, Chicago, among respondents to a survey who eat breakfast at a restaurant, half said they would do so more often if it weren’t so expensive. As a result, the food service industry’s focus on the breakfast menu and providing economical value meals presents a challenge for the at-home breakfast food market. In addition, 45% of respondents to Mintel said they like eating breakfast from a restaurant because someone else does the preparation.

Health and wellness, which includes low-calorie and low-fat options as well as options with functional benefits, are important considerations for breakfast as well. In addition to convenience, Mintel noted the breakfast bread and yogurt category are still large areas for growth. Yet at the same time bread, eggs and dairy are all market categories rising in price. Mintel said it is likely more expensive food will lead to more selective consumers as consumers will rank priorities when it comes to food safety and family health and shop accordingly.

The desire for fresh food is also a factor of consideration. Mintel said among respondents to a survey who bought meals from a fast casual restaurant (such as Panera Bread or Einstein Bros. Bagels) during the previous month, 91% said the freshness of food was an important part of how they choose a restaurant, and 60% said they would like to see more fresh ingredients.

In addition to its bagels and bakery products, Panera Bread, Richmond Heights, Mo., also has three grilled breakfast sandwich varieties: egg and cheese; bacon, egg and cheese; and sausage egg and cheese.

In addition, Panera recently introduced two new coffee blends, a light roast and a dark roast. Panera also has hazelnut and decaffeinated coffee blends and espresso and espresso-based drinks. Panera’s newest breakfast offerings include a Strawberry Granola Parfait.

Einstein Bros. Bagels sells egg sandwiches, egg paninis, egg wraps and yogurt on its breakfast menu along with its choices of coffee.

Other new breakfast products in the food service market include Steel Cut Oatmeal with Fruit from Jamba Juice, as well as the BOBurrito from Bob Evans. The Jamba Juice oatmeal is made with organic steel oats and served with fruit, and the breakfast burrito from Bob Evans has eggs, cheese, onion and a choice of filling (either meat lovers or western).

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, February 3, 2009, starting on Page 38. Click here to search that archive.

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