Tempting breakfast dodgers

By 
Patricia Cobe, Senior Editor

Breakfast keeps getting bigger—in away-from-home sales, that is—and everyone wants a piece of the action. According to the 2011 Mintel Breakfast Report, the breakfast daypart represents $57 billion a year to restaurants, and it’s projected to grow at an annual rate of 13 percent through 2014.

Trouble is, the breakfast customer can be hard to pin down. A varied menu with to-go options is smart, but don’t forget on-trend items like sandwiches, yogurt and oatmeal.

Sowing some oats

Oatmeal has long been an at-home breakfast favorite, but the hot cereal caught on in foodservice when Starbucks and McDonald’s put it in the spotlight. Now a number of chains feature this portable, healthy option and full-service restaurants have added their own versions. Some are putting a lot of effort into the sourcing, preparation and presentation of that humble bowl of oats.

Matt Christianson, executive chef of Urban Farmer in Portland, Oregon, sources Bob’s Red Mill steel-cut oats for his signature oatmeal. “They’re a local Oregon product, are pure and have more protein and fiber to fill you up longer,” he says. Christianson cooks the oats with milk, cinnamon and cloves—the spices add subtle “backup notes”—and tops it with dried fruit plumped in verjus. It’s served with a crisp, house-baked granola bar that reiterates the oatmeal’s spices. “The guest uses the bar to stir the oatmeal, and as it’s stirred, the bar gets softer,” he explains.

To expand his hot cereal offerings, Christianson is looking into grinding his own triticale, farro and other grains for porridges and the like. That’s in sync with Urban Farmer’s other made-from-scratch breakfast items, including English muffins based on the restaurant’s sourdough starter; chicken-cherry sausage; and house-canned peaches for pancakes.

The oatmeal explosion

Technomic reports in its MenuMonitor that oatmeal mentions on top chain menus have nearly doubled since 2008, with 41 concepts—most in the QSR and fast-casual arena—now offering it for breakfast.

These are some variations on the trend:
  • OatMeals, a boutique café and coffee shop devoted to oatmeal that opened in New York City, offers signature oatmeal bowls such as Salted Caramel Apple and Bacon.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts’ Quaker Oatmeal—better-for-you addition to the DDSmart menu.
  • Caribou Coffee’s Handcrafted Oatmeal—high in protein and fiber, low in fat and calories.
  • Chick-fil-A’s Multigrain Oatmeal—a kettle-cooked healthier breakfast option.
  • Panera Bread’s seasonal offering was steel-cut oatmeal topped with dried cherries, apple chips and almonds.
  • IHOP partnered with Quaker Oats to create a proprietary blend of oatmeal available in three varieties: Super Fruit & Nut Oatmeal, Super Fruit Oatmeal and Banana & Brown Sugar Oatmeal.

On the meatier side

Q&A with Frank Dominguez
Corporate executive chef
Farmland Foods

How has breakfast changed in foodservice?
It used to be that a couple of QSRs, a few family chains and, of course, some hotels offered buffets. These days, everyone has a breakfast menu and many times, breakfast is all day long.

What do today’s breakfast customers want?
They are looking for something new and a little different… perhaps more upscale, flavored or even ethnic. Breakfast sandwiches encapsulate this phenomenon. For example, people are ordering croissants or paninis now instead of biscuits. They might seek out maple or apple smoked bacon versus hickory. And they might try a chorizo wrap rather than one stuffed with breakfast sausage.

The flip side is the “better-for-you” choice. People recognize that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day; they’re looking for something not necessarily healthy, but something that isn’t unhealthy. This might be accomplished by using lower sodium bacon or ham or opting for smaller servings.

What trends are happening in breakfast meats?
While hickory smoked ham and bacon are still the larger part of the market, apple wood smoked product continues to grow. It offers a slightly sweeter and milder smoke flavor that really works at breakfast.

Sausage is still a must-have protein. There are a number of flavors, but we have seen an increase in Southern or country style sausage. It’s a bit stronger in flavor and can be zestier.

How can a concept differentiate itself at breakfast?
Many people look at breakfast with nostalgia, so offer recognizable fare with a gentle twist. Instead of Eggs Benedict, menu a Country Sausage Benedict. Offer steak and eggs in a wrap rather than on a plate. And don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path. I recently made a dish that included chorizo, nopales (cactus) and eggs served with farmer’s cheese on a flour tortilla.

Keywords: 
menus, sales, seasonal