Predicting consumer trends in food, particularly at the drive-through window, has always been a task perhaps better suited to a soothsayer than a nutritionist or a corporate analyst. That's no reason to negate or discount the findings of studies that track consumer preferences, however, or to ignore hot new trends. While breakfast bacon and egg sandwiches served on glazed doughnuts haven’t become mainstream favorites and a breakfast oat and bacon combo spiced with turmeric sounds delicious to almost nobody, there are numerous new foodie options that capitalize on trends and appeal to taste preferences at the same time. With planning, they can be rolled out on menus and be a healthy source of revenue as well.
These Trends Are Evident
Sustainability and technology are seen as overriding consumer concerns across all segments of the food market spectrum, according to vendors and participants at the National Restaurant Association's 2016 Show in Chicago. Running not far behind are concerns about what is healthy, what is clean and what is locally sourced.
But a more surprising and increasing more important trend is the emergence of breakfast as a snack food.
It was on the horizon long before the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that, for the first time, discounted the importance of "the healthy breakfast" as the most important meal of the day. Americans had already discovered that bacon and eggs, waffles and fruit tasted just as good for dinner as early in the morning. Also, millions of Americans had already opted for breakfast sandwiches or burritos in lieu of either sweet doughnuts or a piece of fruit to start the day.
Convenience Reigns Supreme
There's no doubt that early morning take-out breakfast is big business at nationwide chains, and all-day breakfast is gaining in market share — although the reasons might be as varied as the menu offerings. Portability is one reason, but it is also thought that Americans view breakfast sandwiches as a kind of comfort food as well as a healthier alternative to a burger and fries.
Interestingly, fast food outlets don't have to offer a wide variety of options in order to have a successful breakfast business. "To-go" convenience is the primary factor, and consumers demonstrate a willingness to eat the same thing every day rather than to sacrifice their mobility. Messiness or sit-down breakfast choices are not compatible with life in the fast lane, particularly for Millennials who are the prime movers on the morning breakfast take-out scene.
Appealing to Changing Tastes
Consider statistics from a recent study: 24% of Americans "snack" for breakfast rather than eating a full meal.
Another facet of the study confirms the shift to health, as well as the propensity to embrace breakfast foods at any hour of the day. Yogurt, for example, is expected not only to hold its position as a healthy choice, but also to increase as a snacking option. Bacon, cold cereal and pancakes and waffles also score well in both breakfast and snack columns.
Healthy as a Requirement
While "healthy" in various lexicons can mean light, natural, additive-free, GMO-free, allergy neutral, all of the above or more, it does not spell bland or boring in any language. "Foodie" fascination with exotic spices, antioxidant properties and disease-fighting, pain-reducing capabilities of various herbs and seasonings means that experimentation with unusual food pairings and ethnic menu additions might be just the ticket for innovative breakfast items.
Savory, spicy and smoky flavorings are currently gaining favor with both male and female consumers. Although these contenders may never surpass the “sweet” market share, thanks to America’s love of sugary foods, they are at least worth investigating, especially in light of the purported health benefits of various peppers and the energy and fitness claims attributed to spicy items.
May I Take Your Order?
Just what does all this mean for the typical fast food breakfast menu? What options will be met with favor and sell at a price point that boosts the bottom line? Will the current move toward all-day breakfast be an enduring factor that will change menus forever?
The jury is still out on many of these questions. But, as trends continue to crystallize, it becomes increasingly evident that all of us in the fast food supply chain must pay attention to the emerging consumer appetite.