Consumers are redefining 'the most important meal of the day.'

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It has been traditionally known as “the most important meal of the day.” But thanks to ever-evolving lifestyle changes, breakfast — along with the notion of “meal” and, to some extent, “of the day” — has taken on all new meaning.

Hurried lifestyles that are rooted in over-commitment have paved the way for an evolution of breakfast. For many people, a hot, sit-down breakfast around the family table has given way to a quick, small meal that is likely the first of five, six, perhaps even seven for the day.

Maybe the emphasis shouldn’t be on the meal; the focus is now on the food.

According to Technomic’s Breakfast Consumer Trend Report, on average, consumers are still eating breakfast in the home three days a week, but twice a week, they’re skipping it altogether.

“Breakfast isn’t going away,” said Christine Cochran, executive director, Grain Foods Foundation, who noted that 80 percent of Americans still consider breakfast to be that most important meal of the day. “That’s a slight decrease from previous years, but it’s not remarkable. What’s truly changing is what people want for breakfast.”

A recent article from Forbes magazine named “Breakfast, updated” as No. 3 on the top five food trends to watch in 2017. More than the “breakfast all day” concept, it also predicted edgier items such as fried chicken, crispy chorizo and chimichurri to pop up on breakfast menu offerings at a variety of restaurants and foodservice operators.

In a world where consumers try to fit healthy eating into chaotic schedules, people are searching out foods that are portable, nutrient-dense, affordable and healthy. Breakfast foods are hitting all those targets — and then some.

First Watch is blazing a trail of fresh breakfast fare with a healthy halo.

Healthy choice

Many people start their day with foods that provide fuel for energy. Traditionally, it was also intended to get them through the next three or four hours before lunch time. While snacking has all but done away with the latter, the notion of food as fuel remains.

“Breakfast is a moment in time when consumers are looking for nutrient-dense options, whether it’s protein, fiber or any other nutrients associated with energy,” Cochran said. “These are the opportunities to explore.”

In the past 10 or 15 years, as technology has enabled the emergence of a foodie generation, consumers now know that healthy doesn’t equate to unappealing. In fact, the contrary is often the case. They want fresh ingredients from foodservice and a clean, recognizable ingredient list on their package labels, and companies are responding. Sweet Earth Natural Foods, Moss Landing, California, offers frozen breakfast products that use all-natural protein, ancient grains and fresh vegetables.

And as fast-food chains begin upping their breakfast game, McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Illinois, continues to innovate the meal occasion by developing a breakfast bowl made up of egg whites, turkey sausage and fresh spinach and kale.

McDonald's has developed a breakfast bowl featuring egg whites, turkey sausage and kale.

Protein is a huge selling point for the healthy attributes of breakfast foods. And Technomic’s research suggests that on the horizon, restaurant patrons will start demanding more non-meat proteins on breakfast menus. Particularly at limited-service restaurants, Technomic predicts to see more soy, tofu, whole grains and ancient grains on the menus.

First Watch has been blazing a trail of fresh breakfast fare with a healthy halo for years with menu items such as avocado toast.

“We started offering avocado toast back in 2015 as a limited time offer (LTO), and a year later, we brought it back,” said Shane Schaibly, corporate chef for the University Park, Florida-based restaurant chain. “Now, you can’t scroll through Facebook or Instagram without seeing an array of avocado toast.”

That said, Schaibly emphasized that while First Watch offers healthy menu options, it is not a health food restaurant.

“We offer some healthy dishes; that’s for sure,” Schaibly said, “but if you want to get a triple stack of chocolate chip pancakes, you can come here for that, too.”