The pandemic deprived the food and beverage industry of nearly $240 billion in sales in 20201—but it couldn’t bring breakfast down—at least, not completely.
Away-from-home breakfast purchases were already on the upswing pre-pandemic, with consumers purchasing more breakfast foods at school (34%), workplace dining establishments (29%), quick service restaurants (26%) and convenience stores (25%) in 2019 than they had in 2018.2 One in 4 operators, meanwhile, reported higher year-over-year brunch sales in 2019.2
If anything, the pandemic increased consumers’ “deep affection” for breakfast, with 62% of consumers surveyed by The Harris Poll in February 2021 saying breakfast is their favorite meal of the day and 56% saying they love breakfast more now than they did a year ago.3
Breakfast items ranked among the top sellers for both full and limited service establishments in 2020, in fact,1 and breakfast delivery orders via DoorDash also increased in 2020.4 With lockdowns lifted and consumers returning to their office, school and other routines, breakfast could have its best year yet in 2021.
“People have had enough of toasting their own bagels and making their own coffee,” says Malcolm McAlpine, business manager for branded snacks and confections at Mondelēz International. “There’s a better opportunity for foodservice operators of all types to capture that breakfast daypart. By providing good breakfast options, you’re able to play upon that aspect of people wanting to get out of their homes to eat.”
Knowing what flavors, formats and other elements consumers are craving—including the breakfast trends outlined here—can position commercial and noncommercial foodservice, micro market, and vending operators to attract the impending influx of customers seeking their breakfast food fixes outside their own kitchens.
The Power of Portability
Pre-pandemic, many consumers craved convenience—think hand-held breakfast items purchased away from home that they could eat in transit or once they got to work. The need for such items may have diminished with fewer people commuting over the past year, but Renee Wheeler, senior consultant for Hartman Retainer Services, expects the demand for such convenience to return.
Because a lot of people are still working part time in the office and part time at home, there might not be a huge upswing right away, Wheeler explains. “But particularly as kids go back to school and people go back to the workplace [full time], there will be a desire to get back into their routine,” she says.
Bluedot research confirms, in fact, that consumers still want the convenience that curbside, delivery, drive-thrus and mobile apps provided during the pandemic. Eight in 10 consumers surveyed in spring 2021 said they plan to continue their current dining habits post-pandemic, and a whopping 91% visited a drive-thru in the past month.5 Two-thirds of consumers also plan to continue ordering and paying through the drive-thru on future commutes to the office.6
Unidine, a provider of dining services in healthcare, corporate, senior living and behavioral health environments, has offered its Breakfast upon Rising program to senior community customers for more than a decade. The program allows residents to order from a full menu of breakfast foods throughout the day—in part because it’s convenient with their schedules, says Chief Culinary Officer Randy Emert.
“If they wake up late or early, have a doctor’s appointment and come back and maybe had to fast [before the appointment], we want them to have food available … and to cater to their needs and wants,” he says.
Restaurant patrons aren’t limiting their breakfast intake to morning hours either—a practice that began well before the pandemic. In 2019, for example, 3 in 10 consumers reported they were purchasing breakfast fare outside of morning hours more often.7 By February 2021, 79% of consumers said they had eaten breakfast foods for meals other than breakfast in the past year.3 Within that group, 20% said they ate breakfast foods for dessert!3
With all-day breakfast offerings becoming a mainstay at many foodservice locations, operators who want to remain competitive should consider expanding their breakfast hours—if they haven’t already. “We’ve all heard about the breakfast wars, particularly in QSR,” Wheeler says. “Consumers are not only eating breakfast [foods] for breakfast but also outside of breakfast: 2020 was the first year in which more occasions outside of that typical morning time frame involved breakfast items.”
Nourishing Body and Soul
According to Unidine’s Emert, people of all ages increasingly are looking for protein-rich, heart-healthy and other functional foods. “The trend has really been healthier cuisines—more fruits and vegetables and plant-based” items such as quinoa and dried fruit salads and yogurt parfaits, he says. “You’ll see some tofu breakfast dishes, egg white breakfast wraps and things like that.” And even though demand for danishes, doughnuts and other baked goods isn’t as high as it was 10 years ago, consumers still want them, he adds.
“Sweet foods dominated 2020’s ranking of top breakfast items ordered in the United States by growth in popularity,” per Grubhub, with frozen mocha beverages, chorizo burritos and potato pancakes all experiencing some of the biggest increases in popularity year over year.8
Given the trying year people had, it’s not surprising that consumers still also want hearty and even decadent breakfast items, Mondelēz’s McAlpine says. Dishes that feature well-known, classic brands—such as IHOP’s sweet-and-savory OREO ‘n Bacon Waffle Sundae—are especially appealing.
“We saw to some degree after the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent recession: People revert to brands they trust,” he explains. “Branded cookie sales were up 7% last year. Associating a breakfast item with a brand really works—particularly if it’s a brand everybody knows and loves, like OREO Cookies.”
Even with the rising interest in healthy options, rich, sweet breakfast cuisine has a place on the menu, McAlpine adds. “People want indulgence—and they want better-for-you,” he says. “Both of those are always going to be with us.”
Freshly Prepared Fare
Unidine is one of many operators that has long relied on scratch cooking—a practice that no doubt contributed to its 20% to 30% growth over the past nine years.
“Most of the time, residents are happy to see us get rid of the premade omelets, French toast, pancakes and breakfast sandwiches,” he says. “That trend is becoming more popular because a lot of people coming into senior communities and hospitals [have] cooked in their home or are well-traveled and want food [that’s] made fresh.”
Hartman research confirms that today’s consumers generally are looking for more personalized, flavorful cuisine featuring sustainably sourced and globally inspired ingredients, Wheeler says. A desire for delicious food was a larger catalyst for away-from-home breakfast occasions than even hunger, she adds. Such findings signal a need for more micro market offerings and menu items featuring premium attributes—such as local, seasonal foods and artisanal ingredients—that people covet.
“We found that in 2020, consumers were expecting a lot more from the foods they consumed in terms of flavor and texture and wanting something different,” Wheeler explains. “That definitely was the case at breakfast. As schedules in the morning become more hectic, they’re going to continue to expect convenience—without trade-offs in quality.”
Learn more about the items commercial and noncommercial foodservice, micro market, and vending operators can offer to satiate customers’ breakfast cravings by visiting Mondelēz in Booth 1045 at The NAMA Show, August 18–20, 2021, in New Orleans.
1 2021 Restaurant Trends Report (National Restaurant Association, January 2021)
2 Breakfast SNAP! Keynote Report (Datassential, September 2019)
3 “Breakfast popularity extends to other times of day,” Supermarket Perimeter, June 14, 2021
4 “The State of Flavor in America,” DoorDash, Nov. 17, 2020
5 The State of What Feeds Us Volume IV (Bluedot, May 2021)
6 Foodservice Planning Program survey (Technomic, April 2021)
7 Breakfast Consumer Trend Report (Technomic, 2019)
8 Most ordered breakfast food items in the United States in 2020, by growth in popularity (Grubhub, December 2020)