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You are here: Home Features  Over easy

Over easy

By Leslie Wu

A breakfast burrito from BLD restaurant.

It's a new


a new plate,

a new life






feeling good

French toast from BLD.

hen Japanese tourists came into BLD restaurant in Toronto asking for a breakfast reflective of their culture,  owner/operator Lynda Angelucci whipped them up an off-menu salmon dish that met their needs.  Although such requests are still rare for the mainstream breakfast market, there is a definite expansion away from the days of the traditional bacon, eggs and toast breakfast plate. Consumers today are expecting convenience, customization and choice in terms of healthy or allergy-conscious dining, and choosing their breakfast dining options accordingly.

There’s no question that breakfast is big business in Canada. In fact, breakfast has been the fastest growing daypart in Canada in the last five years, says Robert Carter, executive director of the NPD Group—growth that is being led by the QSR segment. “It’s not a regional specific thing… it’s literally growing across all regions across the country,” says Carter. According to NPD data, of the 932 million new dollars that came into the restaurant business in Canada in the last 12 months, the majority came in the  QSR segment and at breakfast.

This growth marks a change in consumer behaviour, says Carter, with less people going out at supper due to the economy or budgeting concerns. Since consumers still like going out to eat, this is translating into more business at breakfast, with a penetration rate of people who use restaurants daily for breakfast ranking at 47 per cent, second only to Italy according to NPD data.

“The recession was a key driver, as consumers adapted their choices based on a much tighter economy,” says Peter Daly, director of sales, The Elite Meat Company. “In addition, career lifestyles have been consistently shrinking the lunch time window, which has pointed consumers to use the morning, before work time, to their benefit. Consumers with little time during the day have discovered that the breakfast segment is appealing, gratifying, inexpensive, and a healthy choice.”

Weekday warriors

Although weekends are the times when consumers indulge in lengthy brunch items, the weekday breakfast segment can offer a steady stream of revenue for operators.

“In the market, we’re seeing an overall shift where more people are using restaurants in the weekday rather than weekend,” says Carter.  NPD data puts breakfast as the daypart with the best consistent growth, averaging six per cent annual gain in traffic over the past four years, with convenience being the key factor.

The majority of the use for restaurants in breakfast is off premise, taking place mainly through the QSR segment, which serves seven out of 10 breakfasts, says NPD. “Each year, off premise becomes more important to Canada due to the convenience factor,” says Carter, pointing to the desire for “on-the-go convenience” and the popularity of drive throughs. FSRs are losing breakfast visits to the QSR sector due to this need for speed, adds Carter.

Daly, however, sees an opportunity for FSRs to take advantage of the growth in the breakfast market. “Handheld is growing faster than full service formats due to the convenience of faster service, but do not underestimate full service formats,” says Daly. “They too, are expanding menu offerings, quality, price and service levels. Full service formats have an advantage on quality and freshness appeal that the QSR offering has not yet achieved (there’s a perception of a mass-produced, processed product versus one that is freshly cooked to order).”

Nonetheless, the consumer desire for convenience is high. “More Canadians are consuming breakfast in the car (like breakfast sandwiches and muffins),” says Solange Heiss, assistant director, marketing and nutrition communications, Dairy Farmers of Canada.

“We’re simply sitting down for meals less often and the absence of the regular sit-down family meal is the new normal for an increasing number of Canadian families,” agrees Kathryn Matheson, vice president, marketing of Quaker Foods and PepsiCo Foods Innovation at PepsiCo Foods Canada. “Modern eating often takes place in front of the television, at a desk in front of a computer or behind the steering wheel.”

According to the Technomic 2010 Canadian Breakfast Consumer Trend Report, weekday visits are the most common for breakfasts at fast-food restaurants, with a fifth of consumers patronizing these locations for both weekday (22 per cent) and weekend (20 per cent) breakfast occasions about once every 90 days or more.

“Some consumers may think it is more convenient to eat breakfast in transit rather than at a final destination,” says the Technomic report. “During the week, consumers who purchase carry-out breakfasts eat these items in transit half of the time. The remaining 50 per cent of the time, they eat them at a final destination.”  This en route number drops to 37 per cent on the weekend.

Although Angelucci’s business at BLD is split in dollar value between dine-in breakfast meetings and the express take-out, she does more business in portable items like breakfast burritos on a regular basis.

“Because so many people live the ‘on-the-go’ lifestyle, they are looking for items that are quick and convenient,” says Dameion Albanese, director of marketing and corporate training, TMF Foods.

I wanna hold your hand

Breakfast sandwiches play a large part in drawing consumers to the breakfast daypart, says Robert Carter, executive director of the NPD Group, mainly due to the innovation in the handheld category. “If we looked at breakfast sandwiches five years ago as compared to today, they’re completely different,” he says.

“Flavour enhancements in terms of breakfast sandwiches have been pretty impressive over the past few years, more than other segments,” says Carter. These enhancements can be as simple as adding smoked ham to a breakfast sandwich, or the addition of different types of bread, such as bagels, toasted muffins, and wraps. Carter also points to the addition of various types of sauces, cheeses, or different toppings, such as specialized items like spinach, as ways that operators are adding or changing flavour profiles.

“It’s been proven that the more innovation that a restaurant shows, the more visits it draws,” says Carter.

Since coffee is the number one item consumed in restaurants and the second fastest growing market only to breakfast sandwiches, it makes sense that leading the charge in terms of growth at the breakfast daypart are coffee and burger operators in the QSR market, says Carter, although he is starting to see other players coming in such as sandwich operators.

NPD data puts the number of new breakfast sandwich occasions in Canada in the last 12 months at 42 million – a growth of 14 per cent. In terms of breakfast wrap burritos occasions during the same time, there were nine million occasions, meaning that there were over 50 million new breakfast occasions overall. “If you’re in the breakfast game right now, you’re experiencing some gain,” says Carter.

“It’s not just places like Tim Hortons, but other operators are benefiting, especially QSR and places like Cora’s.”

Much of the appeal of handheld comes from its grab and go elements. “Convenience is essential in the morning and important throughout the day,” says Diane Sparish, senior vice president foodservice marketing and corporate communications of Michael Foods.

“We see more and more operators put breakfast sandwiches on their menu and we expect continued positive growth in the foodservice market.”

This growth is tied to customer perception of value, says the Technomic report.

“With operators industry-wide looking for enticing ways to attach value attributes to the menu, it is no surprise that a service format associated most with convenience would strongly promote value meals for breakfast with a portable, handheld item like the sandwich, since the convenience factor is also central to the overall consumer perception of value in today’s economy,” according to Technomic.

“Handheld breakfast items continue to grow in popularity as daily demands increase, limiting individuals in the necessary time it takes to prepare a healthy and nutritious breakfast,” says Rick Szurkowski, national account manager, Global Egg Corporation/EggSolutions.

Hot and healthy

Even though Canadians may be driving to get their breakfast (and eating it en route), there’s no question that they’re more conscious of what they’re putting into their bodies.

“There is more of a concern about health and wellness – consumers are more educated about the types of food they’re eating,” says Robert Carter, executive director of The NPD Group.

“People know that they’re supposed to eat breakfast – it’s been beaten into their head enough that they know,” says Lynda Angelucci, owner/operator of BLD restaurant (the initials stand for breakfast, lunch and dinner.) “But they’re still a little trepidatious about eating out, and ingesting unwanted calories and things that are bad for them.” Angelucci offers buckwheat pancakes, walnut butters, and berries to her customers. “You don’t have to come in and eat bacon with your eggs. You can customize breakfast to how healthy or unhealthy you want to eat,” she says.

Much of the push towards healthy items comes from a change in education, says Rick Szurkowski, national account manager, Global Egg Corporation/EggSolutions. “Our younger generations are being taught at an early age to eat healthier and avoid various food groups, and focus on the healthy food groups and staple products, such as eggs, milk, etc.”

“The more we offer convenient, nutritious grab-and-go offerings, the more time-pressed health–conscious consumers will choose to eat rather than skip their breakfast meal,” says Diane Sparish, senior vice president foodservice marketing and corporate communications, Michael Foods.

What, however, constitutes a healthy breakfast? According to the Technomic 2010 Breakfast Trends Report, this definition is constantly changing with consumers: “While most may agree that a low calorie count signifies an overall better-for-you choice, others insist that low-carbohydrate, cholesterol free, high-fibre, sugar-free or low-fat contents are most nutritionally beneficial,” says the report.

The Technomic data reflects the importance of consumer perception of health benefits, which may not be tied to facts and figures. To some consumers, says the report, “hard numbers and nutritional values don’t matter as much as the ‘health halo’ attributes surrounding freshness, organic or local food ingredients.”

 “We know that Canadians are looking to make better eating choices, such as incorporating more fibre and essential fatty acids into their diet,” says Kathryn Matheson, vice president, marketing, Quaker Foods and PepsiCo Foods Innovation at PepsiCo Foods Canada.

Peter Daly, director of sales, The Elite Meat Company, also sees this trend towards high-fibre items, as well as low-fat and sodium items.

The mother of innovation

As with most menu items, it’s especially important for operators to differentiate themselves when it comes to breakfast offerings. Although much of the innovation in the category is reflected in breakfast sandwiches, there are other ways that restaurateurs can incorporate new flavours into their breakfast menu.

“Consumers are interested in different experiences and new news,” says Andra Zondervan, director of marketing, Pineridge Bakery.

The Technomic report references descriptions for breakfast menus in the full-service restaurants sector that are set apart by an emphasis on flavours and preparations for proteins, such as hickory or applewood-smoked bacon.

Arthur Mensher from Westbury Farms sees a drive towards operators wanting to differentiate themselves from the competition through protein alternatives to pork, such as corned beef hash.

Innovation can also come from existing menu ideas and flavours from lunch and dinner, or slightly modified lunch menu items slowly making their way to breakfast, says Peter Daly, director of sales, The Elite Meat Company.

Global plate special

When it comes to breakfast, Canadians are moving beyond the traditional and into the exotic, with more chances for restaurateurs to expand their product offerings.

“Ethnic influences are affecting the morning meal as well as overall egg usage,” says Diane Sparish, senior vice president foodservice marketing and corporate communications, Michael Foods. “We’ve seen increased consumer and operator interest in Hispanic and Asian breakfast items.  We are also seeing chains that have not traditionally offered breakfast (e.g. Mexican, pizza, etc.) now entering the breakfast daypart.”

“People started off wanting the standard bacon, eggs, and potatoes, but now they’re into the chorizo hashes, with southwestern flavours,” says Lynda Angelucci, owner/operator of BLD restaurant.

“They want more spice in their food. Southwestern ingredients create a healthy flavour profile with items such as tomatoes, fajitas, and avocados. Breakfast can run the range from sweet to spicy.”

“Flavours play a role in spicing up breakfast,” says Andra Zondervan, director of marketing, Pineridge Bakery. “Understanding the tastes of a multi-cultural society should bring along new and interesting flavours that appeal.”

Non-traditional breakfast flavours or ethnic dishes enjoyed around the globe include:

Natto: fermented soybeans eaten in Japan.

Congee: rice porridge found in Asian countries such as China, Vietnam and Thailand.

Congee, a traditional Asian dish, makes a hearty breakfast.

Nasi lemak: Coconut rice and  chicken dish prepared in homes and by street hawkers in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

Kedgeree: flaked fish, rice, often raisins and/or curry powder, served throughout the UK.

Nasi lemak, a chicken and rice dish.

Trendwatch: The Food Channel

Oatmeal in Overdrive—oatmeal is becoming a real mainstream staple.

Chocolate for Breakfast—with its healthful benefits, chocolate is being promoted as a breakfast product.

Fast Foods Battle Over Breakfast—the breakfast daypart has become the key battleground in the quick service restaurant category.

Haute Coffee Comes Home—to save money, caffeine-seekers are opting to brew their own coffee at home.

Ethnic Invasion—global influences start to creep into the morning meal.

Beverage Choice—breakfast drink menus keep expanding beyond coffee and O.J.

Hot Pizza in the A.M.—pizza is predicted to be one of the hottest menu items for breakfast.

Breakfast Ingredients All Day Long—breakfast ingredients work their way into other parts of the daily menu.

The Breakfast Two-Step—a pattern of people fueling up with caffeine and protein in a two-stage process.

Eggs crack the top 10—eggs to hatch a big comeback this year.

Courtesy of

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