Consumer Demand Driving Today's Breakfast Trends

'The most important meal of the day' is gaining respect, fortified with health and convenience.

By David Phillips Technical Editor

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As Mintel notes, getting grains and fruits into breakfast foods can make the difference between a successful launch and a near-miss. Using oils and fats with a better profile can also affect the outcome.

"Shortenings are no longer selected only based upon performance and price," says John Jansen, senior vice president of regulatory, quality and innovation with Bunge North America (www.bunge.com), St. Louis. "They are now often selected to meet specific nutritional targets, including trans fatty acid-free, lower saturates or specific levels of specific unsaturated fatty acids."

Baked goods make up a large share of the foods consumed at breakfast, and consumers are less likely to take a pass on those offerings when marketers can show that they are made with better oils.

"Historically, shortening and oil products for baking were made from partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which contained some levels of trans fatty acids," Jansen says. "In many cases those products are now made from palm-derived ingredients with higher levels of saturated fats, but no trans."

Backing away slowly from sweetness

Mintel's report on breakfast cereal points out a predicament faced by Kellogg and other cereal makers. While food processors may feel obliged and/or pressured to develop foods that place a high emphasis on nutrition, consumers are often driven by flavor expectations. When it comes to breakfast cereals, the youngest consumers are most interested in highly sweetened cereals, but those products where the sugar level has been dialed back just a bit are also performing well.

Within the cold cereal segment, Mintel further divides it by four sugar-based subsegments. The "cold cereal/high sugar subsegment," in Mintel terminology, is the biggest, accounting for 41 percent of all cold cereal in estimated 2011 food, drug and mass merchandise sales. Its share has grown by 1 percentage point despite sales dropping 0.7 percent. The cold cereal/high sugar and cold cereal/medium-high sugar subsegments both declined during 2009-11, but did so at a slower pace than the two lower-sugar subsegments.

The correlation between higher sugar content and superior sales performance with the cold cereal sector is evident going back further than 2009 as well, clearly indicating that although some consumers have professed an interest in eating better, in some cases they are clearly opting for sugary cereals.

Between 2006 and 2011, cold cereal/low sugar had the biggest decline of any subsegment (-9.5 percent). By comparison, cold cereal/medium-high sugar grew 23.9 percent, far more than any other segment. It is possible that the cold cereal/medium sugar subsegment, which currently represents roughly 10 percent of the cold cereal market, is perceived as an acceptable compromise between children's interest in sweet cereals and parents' desire to encourage better eating habits.

Ingredion's O'Brien says today's ingredient suppliers offer sweeteners, flours, starches and grains that make it easier for food makers to find the sweet spot somewhere between catering to cravings and providing a bland product that is focused solely on nutrition.

"One example of this could be the demand for gluten-free cereals," O'Brien says. "Specialty starch and specialty flour solutions, in combination with other ingredients, can help create high quality, gluten-free breakfast foods that are indistinguishable from wheat-containing alternatives."

The hot cereal segment posted estimated total U.S. 2011 sales of $1.2 billion with slight growth of 2.1 percent. Some of this growth is a result of Americans looking to eat better, and hot cereal, particularly oatmeal, has benefited from its healthful positioning. Mintel forecasts that hot cereal will experience faster growth than cold cereal and will reach $1.4 billion in sales by 2016.

Grains like oats, barley and quinoa will make up the foundation of these kinds of products, and milling companies are offering new types of grains and new versions with improved functional characteristics. Starches, flavors sweeteners and natural colors will also come into play, as food processors develop hot cereals that appeal to consumer desire for hot cereals that taste good and are good for them.

Yogurt, eggs and gluten-free diets

Protein is also an important component of breakfast foods, and among the standard breakfast protein foods are eggs and breakfast meats.

Greek-style yogurt has also become well-known as an excellent source of protein. In the U.S., the vast majority of the yogurt is flavored and sweetened, and while traditional Greek yogurt is served plain or with simple fruits and sweeteners, Greek-style yogurt, which now accounts for nearly half of U.S. yogurt sales, is becoming Americanized. General Mills recently introduced a new line of blended Greek-style yogurt in its Yoplait portfolio in six different flavors.

Starbucks in July announced it will start selling its own brand of yogurt in its stores by 2014, with a goal to take the product to major grocery stores by 2015. "Evolution Fresh, inspired by Dannon," implies who's actually manufacturing the product. The first half of the name comes from Starbucks' late-2011 acquisition of a juice company Evolution Fresh. The first product in Starbucks stores will be a Greek yogurt parfait.

While eggs continue to appear in the center of the breakfast plate, they also have a traditional role as an ingredient in other breakfast foods. New research touted by the American Egg Board at last month's IFT Food Expo illustrates how the growing interest in gluten-free foods could pave the way for eggs to be further utilized in the baking segment.

A team of Kansas State University scientists led by Fadi Aramouni found eggs made a noticeable positive impact on gluten-free bread roll quality, increasing volume and cell elongation. "Before beginning our research three years ago, we found, despite the rapidly expanding retail market for gluten-free products, many of the gluten-free offerings were of mediocre quality," Aramouni stated in a release. "As a result we wanted to see if we could improve gluten-free bread quality to help celiac sufferers and those who choose to eat gluten-free."

Taste, volume, color, moisture and other characteristics are often lacking in gluten-free bread products when compared to their wheat-based counterparts. The team knew if they could positively impact these characteristics, they would improve gluten-free bread quality. Gluten forms a protein matrix that gives bread volume and texture, so the idea was to replace the gluten with an ingredient that could provide structure to the bread.

"Eggs -- also a protein source -- are known for their foaming ability," said Aramouni. "Using eggs as part of a gluten-free bread roll formulation, we were able to increase volume, and improve color and texture." The addition of eggs made the texture softer and helped maintain moisture and retard staling.

Food manufacturers will continue to look for innovative solutions when developing new products for any meal or snack occasion, as consumers keep expecting more from their foods. The future looks bright for breakfast foods and those food formulators who are focused on that first meal of the day.

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