Before the Egg McMuffin ushered in the era of the breakfast sandwich, most away-from-home breakfasts featured eggs, bacon, toast and maybe home fries served on a plate. Now breakfast sandwiches are as ubiquitous as McDonald’s golden arches and operators looking for a different format are turning to bowls.
Breakfast bowls have several selling points: They’re more adaptable to experimentation; they can be healthy or hearty, depending on ingredients; and they offer a perception of value to the customer. Drew Davis, COO and executive chef of Eastman Egg Company in Chicago, describes breakfast bowls as “the inside of a sandwich amplified. We’re more generous with the ingredients but we sell the bowls for the same price as the sandwiches [$5.95 to $8.95].” Since the artisan sandwich rolls are not included, this value win for the consumer doesn’t increase Eastman Egg’s food costs.
“Nutrient density is becoming more of a priority with our customers,” Davis adds, and bowls appeal to low-carb, gluten-free eaters trying to pack in protein. One of the most popular breakfast bowls at Eastman Egg is The Scoundrel, a combination of smoked turkey, white cheddar, spinach and eggs with spiced mustard. Its eggs and meats are sourced from local farms and the sauces are made in-house.
Bowls for the mainstream
McDonald’s is casting a wider net with its bowls, in test in about 800 Southern California outlets since February. The megachain’s all-day breakfast program is driving traffic, research and sales figures show, and bowls have potential to continue that momentum.
In response to customer requests, McDonald’s new bowls add both healthy and hearty options to its all-day breakfast menu, says Max Gallegos, marketing director for McDonald’s USA in Southern California. Delivering on health is the Egg White and Turkey Sausage Breakfast Bowl, which also includes sauteed spinach and kale, Parmesan cheese and bruschetta, at 250 calories and 27 grams of protein. For customers with heartier appetites, there’s the Scrambled Egg and Chorizo Breakfast Bowl with hash browns, chicken chorizo, shredded cheese and roasted salsa roja.
“Feedback from guests has exceeded our expectations and they’re loving the new ingredients,” says Gallegos.
Adapted to go
At full-service breakfast-and-lunch concept Flying Biscuit Café, meals are a sit-down experience. Its breakfast bowls typically feature grits in combination with eggs, bacon or chicken sausage; cheese and fried green tomatoes are signatures. But to snag that customer in a hurry, Flying Biscuit recently introduced an Express Menu of grab-and-go bowls, says brand leader Brent Fuller.
For the Express Menu, Flying Biscuit downsizes its entree breakfast bowls into half portions and sells them for under $5.99 instead of $12.99. The strong customer reception encouraged the addition of a yogurt bowl to go ($3.49), featuring vanilla yogurt, berries and granola. Fuller reports that two additional breakfast bowls will debut in September; one vegetable-based and the other on the meatier side.
Also jumping on the breakfast-bowl-to-go trend is Red Mango, expanding into smoothie bowls in March. Although drinkable smoothies already were available, “with our stores opening as early as 7 a.m., smoothie bowls [a thicker smoothie base topped with fruit and granola] strengthen our breakfast lineup and provide variety to our early morning customers,” says Nicole Taub, Red Mango’s operations support and product development manager.
Clearly targeting those seeking health in a bowl, the lineup includes an Acai Blueberry Banana Smoothie Bowl and a Berry Power Protein Smoothie Bowl. The former promotes an antioxidant boost from superfoods acai and blueberries, while the latter contains peanut butter and whey protein for a more substantial breakfast. Although it’s too soon to gauge the response, Taub says, Red Mango anticipates drawing in new customers and has launched an online and in-store marketing campaign to support the new items specifically.
Whether a breakfast bowl contains a thick smoothie and fruit, eggs and sausage or grits and vegetables, when compared to a sandwich or a drink, its appeal may lie in the experience. “The act of eating this item with a spoon [or fork] provides a more meal-worthy and fulfilling sensation,” says Taub. And that spells value for many consumers.
Breakfast by the numbers
45% Percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who would visit a place they don’t normally go to if breakfast hours were longer
38% Percentage of consumers who increased away-from-home breakfast purchases in 2015
55% Percentage of consumers who order something different from what they would eat at home when eating breakfast away from home
4% Percentage growth in customer counts year over year for QSRs, making breakfast the fastest-growing daypart in the segment