Breakfast on the move

While it’s true that most breakfasts are often sourced from home — 78 percent, according to the NPD Group — it doesn’t mean they necessarily stay at home.

“When you’re eating five times a day, you’re not sitting at a table,” Cochran said. “You might be sitting at your desk or in the car, but you’re definitely consuming portable options.”

That desire of portability is creating huge growth opportunities for products such as breakfast sandwiches. In fact, although breakfast sandwiches ranked only No. 7 on a list of top 10 breakfast foods, they were also indicated as being on a steady growth trajectory.

Sandwiches — or perhaps a better term would be handhelds to include similar items such as breakfast burritos and even tacos — are the ultimate option for people looking for portable satiety.

“When you talk about McDonald’s or Taco Bell, the ‘egg sandwich’ concept, whether it’s wrapped in a tortilla or put between an English muffin, checks the ‘protein box,’” Cochran said.

Handheld breakfast items are resonating so well with consumers that they’re looking for them even in a stationary environment, a lesson that First Watch has learned.

“Handhelds were something that we wrestled with,” Schaibly said. “We didn’t want to dabble in it or downgrade our dining experience. We didn’t want to become a hybrid of fast-casual and casual dining. We’re a full-service restaurant.”

First Watch introduced a Multi-Grain Breakfast Sandwich for a limited time.

But the Elevated Egg Sandwich, initially introduced as an LTO, changed the restaurant’s perception of handheld items.

“People flocked to it,” Schaibly said. “We had to sit back, look at ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘This is about our customers and what they want, not what we think they want.’”

Since then, the company has made the Elevated Egg Sandwich a permanent fixture and introduced LTO handheld items such as the Multi-Grain Breakfast Sandwich, featuring a multi-grain croissant from Sweet Street Desserts, Reading, Pennsylvania.

“We usually don’t develop a menu item for a specific ingredient,” Schaibly said. “We develop a dish, and if I’m doing my job right, I can pretty much source anything. But we found this particular product and made the sandwich.”

Sweet Street, a producer of sweet goods such as cookies and brownies, also makes laminated dough products and offered this full butter croissant that is also whole grain with 12 seeds. Additionally, First Watch uses artisan breads from Cleveland-based Orlando Baking Co. that supports the foodie culture the restaurant cultivates.

Mondelez has made the breakfast biscuit an American household name wit the belVita Breakfast Biscuits.

On the retail side, frozen products to heat at home and either consume in the kitchen or in the car provide the ultimate in convenience for people wanting a handheld breakfast. Products such as Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches and Delights (lower-calorie versions of the brand’s frozen microwavable sandwich) meet that need.

Portable breakfast items don’t have to be so grandiose, though. The on-the-go nature of products such as bars, biscuits and even sweet goods also fit nicely into what’s quickly becoming known as the “snackification” of the American diet.

Mini Danish from J. Skinner is available in 10-count packs in cheese, cinnamon or assortments.

“These products provide a convenient format and exciting new flavor combinations that can be consumed on the go,” Kyle said.

Assorted multi-packs cater to families with varied tastes who are in a hurry to get out the door and likely eating breakfast in the car.

Bars and biscuits are practically snacking hybrids. Consumers who claim to skip breakfast could throw these individually wrapped items in a purse or bag to eat later in the morning or as a mid-morning snack. Mondelez has made the breakfast biscuit an American household name with the belVita Breakfast Biscuits, and brands such as Nutri-Grain, Nature Valley and Snyder’s-Lance were right on its heels.

|||READ MORE: Beyond the day part|||

Foods such as quinoa and avocado, which haven't been considered breakfast foods are moving into the morning day part.

Beyond the day part

Thanks to initiatives such as McDonald’s introduction of the “breakfast all day” menu concept, breakfast has taken on far more meaning than a day part. It’s an occasion that can be experienced at any time of day.

As snackification morphs one meal into the next and creates crossbreed meal occasions, breakfast foods are becoming more and more recognizable in any part of the day. No longer is a brioche bun the only upscale addition to a burger on a foodservice menu; now it’s topped with an egg.

According to the NPD Group, breakfast occasions, both in and out of the home, are projected to grow by 5 percent through 2019, actually outpacing the population growth. And Technomic’s Breakfast Consumer Trend Report indicated that in 2015, 54 percent of consumers said that they enjoy eating breakfast at nontraditional times, up from 48 percent in 2013.

“Fortunately, the J. Skinner product line has always been consumed during most day parts, and these opportunities occur around the clock with consumers snacking more than ever,” Kyle said. “Snack represents about half of all eating occasions, and our cinnamon rolls and batter cakes fit right in with that.”

Technomic’s report also said that 32 percent of participants indicated they will purchase breakfast food as a mid­morning snack; 45 percent will purchase at lunch, and 59 percent will purchase a breakfast food at dinner time.

Although restaurants like First Watch only keep business hours for breakfast, lunch and brunch, they’re most likely driving menu innovation at dinner establishments and in homes.

“The breakfast day part might not be gaining as much steam, but we’re now seeing tons of restaurants putting breakfast items on their menus at night,” Schaibly said. “For us, it’s more about the freedom to think outside the box and do cool, exciting things.”

And while items like donuts, waffles, pancakes and eggs are carving out space later in the day, other foods such as quinoa and avocado, which haven’t been considered breakfast foods, are moving into the morning day part.

So, what does the future hold for breakfast foods?

“It’s clear by the strong growth in breakfast that there’s an opportunity for food manufacturers, operators and retailers,” said David Portalatin, vice president and food industry analyst, NPD. “The best way to tap breakfast and morning snack opportunities is to first understand what the consumers’ motivations, needs and wants are based on demographics, life stage and situation and let this knowledge guide your decision-making.”

In other words, there’s no crystal ball for the future of breakfast; consumers change the game too often and too quickly for that. But if bakers, snack makers and food service operators can stay in touch with consumers and collaborate with other categories and day parts, breakfast can still be the most important — if not the most profitable — meal of the day.