Consumers want portable, better-for-you options for breakfast that will fill the two main needs they have at the beginning of the day: a nutritious and convenient meal.

KANSAS CITY — People approach breakfast with the most noble of intentions. They understand that it’s the meal that sets the tone for the rest of the day. The correlation between breakfast and a healthy lifestyle is strong in the minds of consumers.

Despite their best intentions, however, most people don’t always get breakfast. According to Technomic’s “The Breakfast Consumer Trend Report,” 63% of consumers believe it’s unhealthy to skip breakfast, but only 26% actually eat breakfast every day. The statistics get better with consumers who eat breakfast sometimes: eight out of 10. And when it comes down to choosing what they will have for breakfast, most consumers succumb to easy and portable rather than nutritious.

While priorities at breakfast can differ across demographics, the common theme among all consumers is convenience, according to David Skinner, marketing manager, J. Skinner Baking, Omaha, NE.

The data backs him up. According to Technomic’s report, 37% of consumers skip breakfast because of lack of time, and while 20% of people eat breakfast away from home, that doesn’t mean they’re going through the drive-through. Most consumers source their breakfast at home to save money.

“The handheld segment continues to grow and is one of the key growth drivers of frozen breakfast,” said Trinh Le, associate director, brand marketing, frozen foods, Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, MI.

This grab-and-go culture drives the need for portable breakfast options that also provide some nutrition so consumers can feel good about starting the day right with fast and easy choices.

“Today, consumers want it all: convenience and ingredients they’re familiar with, and they’re open to functional ingredients, products fortified with fiber and protein,” Mr. Skinner said.

The breakfast sandwich continues to thrive due to its portability and protein content.

Ingredients with function

As protein gains buzz throughout the food industry, breakfast is an obvious place for the trend to latch on. Eggs dominate this meal time with 53% of consumers agreeing that eggs are good for their health, according to Technomic. The health perception around the egg aids in the continued popularity of the ever-convenient breakfast sandwich served by fast-food operations.

To meet this growing demand for more protein as well as cater to moms searching for portable and satisfying breakfast options, Kellogg launched breakfast sandwiches under its Eggo brand. These sandwiches include different breakfast meats, egg and cheese between two Eggo waffles. The product can be heated in 90 seconds at home or in the office microwave, contains less than 300 Cal and boasts a good source of protein.

“We know that people are seeking more protein at breakfast,” Ms. Le said. “New Eggo breakfast sandwiches — containing egg, cheese, and sausage — provide protein from the foods people love.” The breakfast sandwiches also are available in a bacon, egg and cheese variety as well as an egg-and-cheese style.

Stand-by proteins such as bacon and sausage may always hit home runs with consumers, but quick-service restaurants are also finding that using upscale meats and cheeses can add interest to their menus. Paired with artisan sandwich breads, these trendy breakfast sandwiches can grab the attention of consumers, particularly millennials, looking for something different but still convenient and healthy.

Bakers don’t have to only rely on meat in a breakfast sandwich to get on the protein trend. Protein is relatively easy to add to a baked good in the form of plant-based or whey proteins.

While protein may be the hottest thing in food right now, fiber continues strong, and bakery is the stronghold segment for the carbohydrate. Yet in today’s climate of clean labels, Alon Ozery, co-founder and co-president, Ozery Bakery, Vaughan, ON, warned against packing products too full of fiber and having to balance off-flavors and limited shelf life with artificial ingredients. “For us, we will use whatever fiber is in the wheat berry and do the best we can with the shelf life,” he said. “We won’t compromise by using artificial ingredients just to gain shelf life.”

Morning Rounds, a portable grain-and-fruit breakfast bun, relies on naturally sweet ingredients, such as dates, for flavor and nutrition-packed ingredients, such as chia.

Clean label

While survey findings suggest that all consumers prioritize convenience for breakfast, certain demographics gravitate toward more nutritious or functional ingredients. At the top of the list are millennials. Recently surpassing the baby boomers as the largest purchasing demographic, millennials are the most informed, health-conscious consumers of all groups. They read ingredient lists avidly and want to see things they recognize, but they also want ingredients that are functional and going to improve their health. “The overall theme is minimally processing your ingredients,” Mr. Skinner explained. “What people want is something real.”

Providing nutrition while still maintaining portability, convenience and, of course, taste, is a balance bakers have been trying to strike. For J. Skinner Baking, which focuses on sweet goods, creating a product health-­conscious consumers can get behind has been challenging. “Working on a portable nutritious product that doesn’t sacrifice the flavor is difficult because we’re an indulgent product at the end of the day,” he said.

Finding a way to tap into the nutrition trend while maintaining its identity as an decadent breakfast option, J. Skinner Baking has gone back to basics: switching from high-fructose corn syrup to sugar and eliminating partially hydrogenated oils as well as artificial flavors and colors.

Others such as Ozery Bakery rely on recognizable “power” ingredients to bring sweetness and functionality.

“People don’t have a lot of time for that meal,” Mr. Ozery said. “We have found there aren’t many grab-and-go better-for-you products.”

The bakery’s solution? Morning Rounds, thin grain and fruit buns that can be eaten toasted, alone with a spread, or as a miniature sandwich. The buns carry no artificial ingredients and rely on fruit for their sweetness. New varieties also feature nutrition-packed ingredients such as chia and muesli.

“In the whole industry, 20 years ago no one asked what was in their food,” Mr. Ozery said. “They just wanted it to taste and look good, but now they read the labels.”

Reading labels, however, does demand some education for the consumer. Many companies have already started telling the general public what’s in food as well as discussing hot topics such as protein and fiber. It’s important as bakeries add nutritional benefits to their products that they get the word out to consumers. As J. Skinner Baking begins to explore the idea of clean label and infusing its products with proteins and other nutrition, it plans on doing just that. It is looking beyond the packaging, which has limited space, to enlisting social media, where the company can engage in conversations with its consumers.

Bakers of indulgent sweet goods can embrace the clean-label trend by removing artificial ingredients from formulations.

Breakfast foods touch consumers’ lives in different and important ways; as families juggle busy schedules with balanced nutrition, young adults try to make informed decisions about their diets or baby boomers just need a healthy kick to start the day. While increasingly on-the-go lifestyles make it difficult for people to make good nutrition decisions about the first meal of the day, bakers are innovating to fit healthy breakfast options into people’s hectic lives.

Today’s handheld breakfast options come with new proteins, not just meat and eggs but also plant-based and whey proteins. Bakers now rely more on the inherent nutrition within ingredients such as fruit and whole grains rather than adding nutrients through less label-friendly ingredients. And while the demand from consumers for healthy, portable breakfast items may seem like a detriment to producers of indulgent sweet goods, even those bakers are finding a loophole in consumers’ obsession with clean label. Sweet-goods bakers can get a little of that healthy halo by stripping their formulations of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.

Indulgent with clean labels or nutrition-packed and tasty — as long as breakfast is convenient, there’s room at the table for everyone.