Blurring the line between a.m. and p.m.

by Allison Gibeson
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Breakfast is not necessarily just a morning meal anymore. In fact, all-day breakfast is the top breakfast menu item consumers would like to see more of at restaurants, according to a recent survey from Mintel International, Chicago. Nearly 4 out of 10 respondents showed support for all-day breakfast menu items.

Consumers especially want all-day breakfast items during the weekend. More females than males said they would like to see all-day breakfast foods. In addition, Mintel has seen the breakfast category grow 10% across restaurant segments during the past two years.

“I think part of the allure for offering breakfast all day is there are more choices,” said Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights. “Also, part of it is restaurants are pretty strict as to when they stop offering breakfast. So if you miss that cut-off point, those breakfast flavors are no longer available.”

Mintel suggests restaurant operators focus on value meals as a way to increase appeal and drive ticket sales of all-day breakfast items.

“Many breakfast value meals feature breakfast sandwiches, hash browns, and coffee,” Mintel said in its ‘Breakfast Restaurant Trends’ report. “At many Q.S.R.s, like Chick-fil-A, substituting a different drink or replacing the potatoes with fresh fruit costs extra. To translate breakfast items into successful value meals during lunch and dinner, the same flexibility and opportunities found on the regular menu would be essential.”

Breakfast foods also are comfort foods, which have become popular in the economy, said Sara Monnette, senior manager of consumer research for Technomic, Chicago. This is another reason breakfast menus are popular.

Breakfast items are typically lower-priced than other items on the menu, and that may be another attraction.

Coffee has become a major way of attracting people to breakfast menus as many restaurants have developed their own brews or have even begun offering Starbucks coffee. Subway, for example, offers Seattle’s Best, a brand owned by Starbucks. And as many coffee shops such as Starbucks offer breakfast items and pastries all day, consumers are beginning to expect to be able to buy such items whenever they would like.

Ms. Monnette said it is important to take popular trends such as ethnic flavors and small plates and incorporate those concepts into all breakfast, lunch and dinner items. She said fast-casual is a category to watch as the number of breakfast sandwich offerings increases.

She said there are two ways to incorporate breakfast all day. One is to incorporate breakfast ingredients into lunch and dinner, such as having a poached egg on a steak or salad, and smaller independent chains often do this. She said the other way is to actually keep the breakfast items on the menu all day.

Ms. Caranfa said the chain Earl of Sandwich L.L.C., Orlando, Fla., has several traditional breakfast sandwiches, but they also have a ham sandwich with mustard and sour cream on an English muffin as well as a breakfast BLT. So she said common breakfast ingredients may be used to blur the lines between breakfast and lunch.

Another attraction to breakfast items is there are many that may be positioned as healthier, such as breakfast parfaits with fruit and yogurt. These items also may be positioned as a snack.

Consumers have developed the mindset they would like to get anything they want made anyway they want, Ms. Monnette said. With this in mind, offering breakfast all day is another way of catering to consumer desires.

“As restaurants try to innovate their breakfast menus, consumers seem to be happy with the traditional breakfast flavors,” Ms. Caranfa said. “So innovativeness isn’t as important as having the flexibility to get those flavors when they want them.”

While consumers desire all-day breakfast and restaurants are working to expand their breakfast menus, a hesitation exists by some major restaurant chains to make the offerings go all day.

Danya Proud, a McDonald’s spokesperson, said the world’s largest restaurant chain’s breakfast sales account for about 25% of its business, but the company has no immediate plans to offer breakfast beyond 10:30 a.m.

“It’s definitely not something we are looking at right now,” Ms. Proud said.

Meanwhile, other chains are offering breakfast menus along with their regular menus and are looking to make a profit from expanded breakfast hours. Subway recently began offering a breakfast menu that includes sandwiches such as Western Egg & Cheese; Egg & Cheese; Black Forest Ham, Egg & Cheese; Double Bacon, Egg & Cheese; and Steak, Egg & Cheese. At the same time that Subway offers its breakfast sandwiches, it also offers the rest of its menu. Participating restaurants offer the breakfast menu all day.

“With all of our sandwich offerings, we are careful to make sure we meet the high standard we set for ourselves by providing a satisfying meal with a varied range of flavor profiles,” said Chris Martone, Subway executive chef. “In the end, though, it is the customers that create the best sandwiches

with the choices they make with toppings, sauces, cheeses, breads and condiments. Our breakfast will be no different.”

Subway also is offering healthier sides with its breakfast menu such as yogurt and apple slices.

Jack in the Box, San Diego, offers its breakfast menu along with its regular menu all day long, and the company recently introduced a new Grilled Breakfast Sandwich with two fried eggs, cheese, ham and bacon. The restaurant offers other Grilled Sandwiches in Deli Trio and Turkey, Bacon & Cheddar varieties.

Several operations challenges

stand in the way of restaurant chains looking to go to all-day breakfast, including the training of staff and product inventory. Training across the menu may be difficult, and there is a risk of having a lot of waste if consumers don’t buy breakfast at other times.

“Everyone is waiting for one to do it right and to model after them,” Ms. Caranfa said. “It almost seems like a little bit of a waiting game now. Who is going to do it best and what can we learn from that restaurant?”

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