Breakfast. The better angels of our nature tell us it is "the most important meal of the day," and some recent consumer attitude studies have shown that people listen to their better angels at least some of the time.
Food manufacturers know for certain that consumers have some very specific demands when it comes to breakfast food, and these demands often involve a different kind of breakfast than what was popular just a couple decades ago.
"Consumers consider breakfast to be the most important meal of the day, even more than lunch or dinner," states a recent study from Mintel Group, Chicago. "Specifically, a 2009 International Food Information Council Foundation's Food and Health Survey found that 93 percent of Americans consider breakfast to be the most important meal, as part of an overall healthful diet."
By comparison, just 87 percent feel this way about dinner and 81 percent say the same about lunch. And yet, consumers often skip breakfast.
"The breakfast industry may need to more effectively communicate the benefits of breakfast, as 56 percent of the survey respondents indicated they did not eat breakfast every day," the Mintel report (Breakfast Foods US Sept. 2012) continues.
Protein, fruit, sugar and caffeine are still a big part of what consumers want for that first meal of the day. While great taste is just as important as ever, there is a growing expectation that tastiness should come with at least a side of whole grains -- and hold the trans fats, sodium, added sugars and other nutritional demons, please. For folks with cholesterol issues and other specific health and dietary concerns, dairy and eggs are given careful consideration, too.
Mintel says the breakfast category is shaped mainly "by the performance of the two main segments: breakfast meats and sweet breakfast breads and pastries." Both of those are doing well because processors "focus on developing products relevant for consumers striving to live a healthful lifestyle, without compromising on indulgence and taste."
Convenience also ranks high in the morning, maybe even more so than at other times of the day. Hand-held breakfast foods are the fastest-growing part of the frozen food segment. Once a novelty, the breakfast burrito has become a staple, and if it can go from frozen to piping hot via a 2-minute trip to the microwave, it is even more likely to find favor with early birds.
So what is a food processor to do? Well, there are new ingredients available (and more in the pipeline) that are doing more to help breakfast foods satisfy appetites while appeasing better angels.
"When looking for ingredient solutions, makers of breakfast foods are most concerned with making their product more appealing to their consumers," says Patrick O'Brien, marketing manager-bakery for Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill. "Increasing the appeal can come by way of enhancing the nutritional value, such as adding a fiber or whole grains, or reducing the sugar or fat content. Other ways to increase the consumer appeal can be through texture or flavor enhancement, as well making products more convenient for the consumer."
Feeling your oats
Oatmeal has been considered a healthful breakfast food since before the development of the modern supermarket and multi-media campaigns and, in 2013, it still sports a healthy halo. Oats in various forms can be used in a variety of breakfast food formulas. Today's consumer may have a better understanding of why oats are good for them, and they have more opportunities to invite them over for breakfast.
Sometimes that takes shape as a familiar breakfast product revamped to include more healthful grains. As an example, in January, Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., introduced a Pop Tart brand extension made with oat flour and fruit. Oatmeal Delights Pop Tarts are made with toasted cinnamon oat crumbles on a baked oat flour crust, and Kellogg has started with two flavors: Strawberry and Maple Brown Sugar.
While the nutritional panel on Oatmeal Delights is an improvement over classic Pop Tarts (one pastry offers 3g of fiber) the ingredient deck includes more than 35 items including fruits, vitamins, starches, sugars, artificial flavors and two certified colors.
Oats are at the forefront of the ingredient portfolio at Grain Millers, Eugene, Ore. The company offers oats in flake, bran, flour, groats and fiber forms. But the company supplies more than oats. FiberMaxx is a relatively new line of functional fibers suitable for fortifying a number of foods, including cereals. A blend of soluble and insoluble fibers, they provide the benefits of each group. And the three stock versions of FiberMaxx - custom variations can be made -- are good economic substitutes for processors working to maximize total dietary fiber in a product.
Don't forget the ancient grains, which have found modern popularity in breakfast foods. Rajen Mehta, senior director of specialty ingredients at Grain Millers, reminds that the company sources amaranth, buckwheat, chia, einkorn, emmer, kamut, millet, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and teff. There are two stock blends of ancient grains - AG51 formulated for taste and AG52 optimized for nutrition - as well as custom formulations.
Beyond oats at Kellogg, the company also extended the Frosted Mini Wheats line this year to include Mini Wheats Crunch. This is the first non-shredded wheat version of the popular brand, but it offers the same 6g of fiber per serving as Original Bite Size Frosted Mini Wheats. As the market leader in convenient breakfast foods, Kellogg has gone this route before with products such as co-branded Eggo/Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles, which bring 3g of fiber per serving to a familiar, convenient comfort food.