Breakfast cereals? Plummeting sales. Farm-style breakfast feasts of eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, toast with jam, fresh fruit, juice, milk and a short stack on the side? Right out.
Americans are opting for smaller meals, taken at shorter intervals. They're eating a small bowl full of berries, granola and almond milk. They're eating chia and flax seed mix. They're hitting the oatmeal hard. They love hard-boiled eggs. A cup of coffee and an energy bar. Even… chocolate pudding?!? All reported by participants in NPR station WBUR's Twitter conversation about the modern breakfast.
Lifestyle and Health-Conscientiousness Are Driving Protein and Carb Choices
Yes, Americans still demonstrate a love affair with bacon. But not so much at breakfast. Many Americans are opting for leaner proteins to get them going in the morning.
And, because work days lengthened during the tight job market of the Great Recession, we increasingly need to get going while on the go. We eat in our cars. We eat at our desks. We scarf down a quick breakfast on the walk from the grocery self-checkout back to our cars.
High-sugar/high-calorie cereals have been met with increasing disfavor. Cap'n Crunch, Lucky the Leprechaun and Tony the Tiger face uncertain futures—parents are more aware these days that what they feed their children will have a profound effect on their later health and development.
Moreover, Saturday morning cartoons—long the bread and butter marketing vehicles for cereals purporting to be "part of this balanced breakfast"—are now a distant memory. Kids simply aren't being subjected to the messaging they used to be captivated by. They don't holler as much in the grocery aisles for Mom to buy them the big box of Cookie Crisp with the awesome prize in the bottom.
The carbs we do eat at breakfast now are smarter carbs. Whole grains. High fiber. Protein-loaded plants. Low glycemic indexed sugar substitutes like stevia. Fruits. Even (gasp) vegetables!
Breakfast Doesn't Necessarily Mean "Breakfast Food."
At the same time, adults (and Millennials especially) don't ascribe to any separation between "breakfast foods" and "dinner foods." It is perfectly acceptable now to eat leftover, cold macaroni and cheese for breakfast.
Breakfast pizza? Yes, please. Breakfast burritos? Sí, me gusta mucho! Snackified ethnic foods—it may be more apropos to label them "dishes of non-English/Scots-Irish inspiration" because, let's face it, America is the original melting pot of cuisine ethnicities and thus "traditional American breakfast" is a culture-relative term—are now some of the hottest-ticket breakfast items in restaurants and grocery stores today.
How about a $28 plate of Salade Nicoise with seared tuna and marinated tomatoes? Indeed, non-traditional breakfast dishes and brunches are bringing Millennials through the door in droves, driving much-needed revenue at trendy eateries.
And although eggs have made a bit of a resurgence of late, consumers are still hungry for light, low-cholesterol protein choices. Quinoa with blueberries is now a perfectly acceptable breakfast. Tofu scrambles can be found on the breakfast bar every morning at Whole Foods and other high-end grocery chains.
American Food Culture is Breaking Away From Its Previous Norms. Anything Goes.
And smart food brands, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs are cashing in big. Want to grab additional market share? Develop innovative food options that play to the shift away from set meal times, plated dishes and "traditional" notions about which foods may be eaten when.
Millennials don't ascribe to them.
Young adults are also food curators. They take pictures of their food and share them on social media. They drive older generations' consumer choices. They are the prevailing tastemakers in the market today.
American food culture has undergone a tremendous shift with the advent of social media marketing, and the changing nature of breakfast has been a relative norm, rather than an exception. There's no telling right now whether the snackification trend is here to stay, but the diversification of the American palette probably is. Food brands should feel confident about allowing their R&D departments a lot of flavor leeway.