“We’re always trying to find the next avocado toast,” says Shane Schaibly, corporate chef for breakfast-and-lunch concept First Watch. Looking for success with another emerging, easy-to-execute trend, the chain rolled out the A.M. Superfoods Bowl—an on-trend bowl with hot-right-now chia seeds, he says. First Watch planned for a 10-week run, but expanded availability once the dish caught fire on social media. While sales were just above average (2% of entree sales), it became the most shared and photographed LTO, enhanced by shots First Watch had taken.
1. Differentiating from competitors
First Watch wanted to set itself apart from competitors using chia in juices and smoothies. “It’s really hard to nail down the consistency of chia seeds in juice [because] it becomes gel-like,” says Schaibly. Instead, the idea of using chia to thicken coconut milk was easier to execute, he says; thus, the chia breakfast pudding recipe was born.
2. Milk wars
While coconut milk costs more to menu than popular nut milks, First Watch was willing to pay the higher price because it had the thickness, creaminess and sweetness needed for the pudding. The chain initially trialed versions with less-pricy almond, cashew and soy milks, but they weren’t as rich as Schaibly needed to stand up to the chia.
3. Piece of cake prep
Unlike some other grain-based bowls, First Watch’s requires no cooking and just two hours to prep an entire day’s batch. The base features three ingredients—agave nectar and new SKUs of coconut milk and chia seeds—which First Watch combines in a large batch before closing in the afternoon, letting it thicken overnight. Schaibly initially struggled with calling this base a pudding, since it’s not a typical breakfast item and diners in the initial Tampa test market had trouble visualizing the dish; but photos on table placards and menus have solved that concern.
4. More new SKUs
In addition to the milk and chia, First Watch added blackberry preserves to its pantry for the bowl, which “has a certain tart flavor to it that you don’t get with other berries.” The chain already had strawberry preserve in-house, but Schaibly found them too sweet in combination with the other sweet components—agave, honeyed granola and coconut milk—in the pudding.
“This is my favorite thing at First Watch—please keep it on the menu,” said one Facebook fan. “Best thing on the menu hands down! Please keep it on the menu!” said another. With these pleas from customers, combined with in-store diners praising the dish to waiters, Schaibly bets that the new bowl and more superfood-based dishes will hit the permanent menu in the future.