Back when dry cereal was considered the hallmark of breakfast, the category looked pretty boring. Sales at General Mills, Kellogg and Post would attest to that.
Mix in a newfound interest in fuel for the new day and a heaping helping of protein and suddenly the morning daypart has again become "the most important meal of the day." The momentum is so powerful it's even lifting the otherwise flat frozen food category.
Entrees, sandwiches and bowls are the new breakfasts of champions, or champions of breakfast, especially in the frozen category, where they have dethroned waffles and pancakes. Hot but handheld and portable, too, are the watchwords in this suddenly thriving category.
"Echoing an evolving consumer lifestyle trend, portability is shaping breakfast food usage growth, with foods such as breakfast bars, breakfast sandwiches, supplements and energy bars driving usage uptake during 2006-2015," said a mid-2016 report from Packaged Facts (www.packagedfacts.com).
"Traditional breakfast staples, such as eggs, bacon and sausage, are undergoing slight to moderate usage declines, in part because use does not fit as easily into consumer demands for quick and portable breakfast solutions," the report continued. "Cold cereal, another breakfast staple, has suffered from steeper declines: While it provides a quick, easy breakfast solution, it also suffers from lack of portability and may generally remain under pressure for high sugar content."
The category's growth spurt has caused some acquisition activity in the past couple of years. Breakfast bowls and burritos were among the high-potential products that emboldened Bob Evans to spin off its breakfast-heavy restaurant chain to concentrate on its food manufacturing under the name BEF Foods … which only a few months later (September 2017) was bought in its entirety by Post Holdings.
Kraft Foods (now Mondelez) was having such success in Europe with breakfast "biscuits" that it created the category in the U.S. when it brought its BelVita brand over the pond. PepsiCo's Quaker responded with similar Breakfast Flats in four flavors.
Not content with hot or cold cereals, Quaker went on to develop many granola bars, pastry-like Breakfast Squares and recently Morning Go Kits -- whole grains, fruits and nuts in a clamshell. And it capitalized on something consumers already were doing with Overnight Oats – instead of having to cook oats, consumers can soften them by soaking in milk overnight.
Even nostalgic Cream of Wheat, a B&G Foods brand, tried to modernize with To-Go Cups, including licensed flavor Cinnabon.
Jimmy Dean was just a maker of breakfast sausages when sold by the country singer/actor to Sara Lee Corp. in 1984. As the new parent firm transitioned to Hillshire Brands, the Jimmy Dean brand explored other breakfast options and found huge success with Stuffed Hash Browns, frittatas, English muffin and croissant breakfast sandwiches, bowls and Simple Scrambles in microwavable cups.
The breakfast category's potential has drawn processors that have never been there before. Kraft Heinz via its Ore-Ida brand recently launched Just Crack an Egg, which combines ingredients such as potatoes, ham, cheese, peppers and other vegetables so that consumers can add an egg and make a hot scramble in under two minutes in the microwave.
Even McCormick & Co. is testing the waters. Last year, the company used its spices and seasonings know-how to debut the Good Morning line, 18 clean-label products, including slow-cooker breakfasts, smoothie boost flavor-and-nutrition packets, breakfast topper ingredient add-ins and breakfast seasonings, such as apple cinnamon. They're meant to "boost the flavor and nutrition of breakfast staples and solve the consumer pain points of variety, healthy, convenience," the company says.
Consumers are looking for products that can enhance their oatmeal, yogurt, eggs, weekend pancakes and even smoothies, Brendan Foley, McCormick president, said at the introduction. All of the McCormick Good Morning items are "clean label and most will be gluten-free," he promised.
The factory-cooked breakfast
Egg McMuffin-inspired breakfast sandwiches often are created by pork sausage manufacturers who transitioned into further processing. Adding a muffin, egg and other ingredients not only complicates production, it can make supply chain logistics a major headache.
Before it was acquired by Conagra, Odom’s Tennessee Pride addressed supply chain issues with a software solution that integrated ERP and MES systems. Coordinating raw materials from three sausage factories to a sandwich assembly center was a challenge, but making a multi-component product also meant involving multiple ingredient suppliers, as well. Add to that finished goods shipments to distributors, retailers and foodservice accounts, and the company was dealing with complexities that hadn’t previously existed.