CHICAGO – Kraft Mac & Cheese dinner mix made its debut during the Great Depression in 1937. It was promoted with a “make a meal for four in nine minutes” slogan and cost 19¢. The company sold eight million boxes that first year. Now the brand says it’s for breakfast, after learning that more than half of parents have served their children mac and cheese in the morning more often during COVID-19 related stay-at-home orders than previous months.

“As a brand loved by the entire family, we’ve learned Kraft Mac & Cheese isn’t just for dinner,” said Kelsey Cooperstein, brand manager of Kraft Heinz, Chicago. “A Kraft Mac & Cheese breakfast is a win-win for families at a time when they need all the wins they can get.”

Kraft started giving away limited-edition boxes of “breakfast” macaroni and cheese on Aug. 7. It’s the same product with the word dinner replaced by breakfast on package fronts. Each box also includes a placemat for children to color while the pasta is being prepared, along with a magnet with breakfast topping suggestions, such as crumbled sausage, bacon or scrambled eggs.

Since 1937, many companies have copied Kraft’s blue box, some better than others. Today there are numerous flavor and pasta shape variations, as well as organic, gluten-free and even vegan options. There are even heat-and-eat refrigerated, frozen and canned offerings.

Innovators have been busy developing new macaroni and cheese products. Compared to other meal solutions, macaroni and cheese continues to be an economical and easy-to-make food that most people enjoy, even the pickiest eaters. The dried mixes are convenient to stock, with the single-serve cups easy enough to prepare that youngsters can do it on their own with the microwave while mom and dad are working from their new home office. For many, macaroni and cheese is simply comforting and nostalgic. 

“It’s been interesting to see how mac and cheese has been attempting in the past few years to increase its premium appeal, but that may not be what consumers want or need from this product at this time,” said Melanie Bartelme, global food analyst, Mintel, Chicago. “We’ve seen consumers turning to their childhood favorites for nostalgic comfort, or simply choosing these solutions for their ease of preparation and ability to keep them on hand in a pinch.”

Kara Nielsen, director of food and drink at London-based WGSN, a global trend forecasting firm, said, “While the leading brands are pushing more macaroni and cheese consumption — as a breakfast food, in a snack format —eventually our comfort need will be satisfied and consumers will be ready for new variations, options with more nutrient-dense profiles and more global flavors.

“Similar to the last economic downturn, however, this is an affordable meal that works well as a pantry stocker. What will make these offerings more valuable will be recipe suggestions for adding more protein and vegetables or reformulations that offer a higher protein amount, which could come from the pasta, added whey protein or other supplementations.”

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