Could a mealtime spawn a movement? In the case of breakfast—and its more sophisticated alter ego, brunch—the answer is undoubtedly “yes.” Consumers love all things breakfast, and they’re looking for it at all times of day.
A study by Aramark partner and food industry market research firm Datassential makes the case that breakfast may indeed be the most important meal of the day for our industry: 93% of food providers reported that breakfast sales increased or stayed the same between 2015 and 2016. Over the past 10 to 15 years, breakfast’s growing appeal has been driven by two related phenomena: the proliferation of snacking and the blurring of dayparts.
“It’s no longer true that breakfast is always at 7 a.m., lunch is at noon, and dinner is at 5 p.m. Someone in college could be waking up a little bit later and having breakfast at 11,” notes Kevin Maguire, Director of Product Development for Aramark, adding that the breakfast craze crosses all demographics and lines of business. “Eating patterns are shifting. Many adults are having snacks or light meals throughout the day.”
Ingredients matter, too. “People aren’t just looking for breakfast at breakfast anymore, or lunch at lunch,” says Marketing Communications Manager Lindsay Selker, who helped bring our Social Toast brunch concept to life. “We’ve geared our menu towards having these cues throughout the day.”
According to Datassential, brunch was on 5.8% of U.S. menus in 2018, but is expected to grow by 17% in the next four years.
Their research also pinpoints the items and flavors consumers wish to see when they eat breakfast out of their homes. (Hint: It’s not just your standard plate of bacon, eggs, and toast.)
While breakfast is having its moment, we can’t lose sight of the fact that attracting consumers needs the right strategy. Datassential reports that 79% of consumers had their last weekday breakfast at home, meaning they are either making dishes from scratch or reaching for ready-to-eat options like cereal or breakfast bars. So while nostalgia may bring consumers in the door, it is quality, value, convenience, and prompt service that will keep them coming back.
Here’s a look at how the industry can capitalize on new innovations in the breakfast space.
Set the Tone
Designing a breakfast menu starts not with food, but with feelings. Consumers are looking for a familiar experience, one that evokes mornings shared around the table before heading off to work and school. “Breakfast is a comfort food. It brings people together,” says Maguire. “Any time you can relive that, or remind people of it, can be special.”
Shift the clock a couple hours, add an air of luxury, and you’ve got the essence of brunch, says Selker. “Brunch has taken over Sunday and even Saturday afternoons for many consumers. It becomes an all-day event where people are eating and socializing, enjoying each other’s company.”
This is the mood that inspired our Social Toast rotation, which launched last year and runs during lunch service. Its “crafted brunch fare” approach includes an egg dish, traditional French toast, plus breakfast sandwich and bowl options—all customizable to suit consumers’ tastes. The offerings conjure images of that relaxed weekend experience within the business, health care, and higher ed settings (and it is especially popular among students).
Experiment With Dayparts and Ingredients
In our world, “breakfast all day” doesn’t look like the always-on menus you see in fast-food restaurants. Yes, it helps to extend your meal service windows, but it also means weaving breakfast ingredients into traditional lunch and dinner fare.
“For us, it’s more about putting an unexpected breakfast twist on the familiar,” explains Maguire. And consumers are eager to see what we come up with; 42% are open to having breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast, according to Datassential.
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Take, for example, the breakfast sandwich, a menu item that has reached proliferation stage. A creative spin can be as simple as introducing an unexpected cheese like Gruyere or smoked Gouda. Go one step further by upgrading the meat to a crab cake or fried chicken. Nine in 10 breakfast menus include eggs, but one-third of Americans are willing to try venison, Datassential reports, underscoring the potential for a wider variety of breakfast proteins. Even the bread option is up for grabs, as more than half of consumers express interest in sandwiches starring French toast and waffles.
Sandwiches are just the beginning, Maguire notes, as breakfast ingredients work well in a variety of formats. These days it’s not all that unusual to see breakfast-inspired bowls, burgers, and pizza—foods that consumers typically gravitate toward at lunch and dinner. “Breakfast ingredients give us so many ways to deliver on classic comfort foods,” he says.
The globalization of consumer tastes is also upping the breakfast game. Mexican cuisine is a natural way to spice things up—think breakfast burritos and tostadas, or elements of pico de gallo and queso fresco—but consumers are ready to expand their horizons even further. Consider this: Pesto is the fastest-growing brunch flavor, and the use of kimchi increased four-fold on breakfast menus in a four-year span. This counters the popular notion that breakfast is best served with a side of syrup.
“Breakfast and brunch are a safe, approachable way to try new things, whether it’s an ingredient, spice, or new dish altogether,” says Selker.
A closer look at the Social Toast menu reveals all these influences at work. The flavor profiles are part sweet and part savory. The Italian Poached Eggs are a take on shakshuka, the Israeli dish gaining traction on morning menus. The breakfast sandwich is nestled inside a flaky croissant, and the Avocado Smash Bowl is ripe for personalization. Meanwhile, the Baked French Toast is sure to satisfy any brunch purist.
Beverages are a platform for innovation as well, Selker explains. “Alcohol service differentiates breakfast from brunch in the external marketplace, so with our menus, we had to find another way to mimic that experience. Our answer was a mango honey basil sparkler that pairs really nicely with the elevated brunch offerings.”
Balance Health With Indulgence
Consumers’ focus on health and wellness transcends all else, and the breakfast scene is no exception. On any given menu, our consumers want to see variety and balance between health and indulgence.
“Healthfulness applies to every meal,” Maguire concurs. “With breakfast it’s not just egg whites, turkey sausage, and reduced fat cheese anymore. It means including healthy fats and the right mix of proteins and incorporating whole grains and greens as well.”
He gives bowls as a perfect example, since they lend themselves well to the customization that Gen Z and Millennials crave. A consumer who is feeling indulgent may go for the version with tater tots, scrambled eggs, and sausage gravy. For someone looking to optimize nutrition, eggs and turkey sausage atop a base of arugula will hit the spot. Both are delicious and comforting, and both say “breakfast.”
With Social Toast, the French toast with maple-butter sauce is balanced out by a Strawberry Banana Acai Bowl featuring fresh fruit, granola, and coconut flakes. “We wanted to make sure the consumer had a choice to be indulgent or to stay on the healthier side,” Selker shares. “The menu hits all those marks.”
The ubiquitous and humble egg is increasingly part of the healthfulness and sustainability picture. Datassential notes that consumers consider terms such as “all-natural” and “organic” particularly important when it comes to eggs—thanks in part to media coverage of egg production plus a general trend away from food additives. At Aramark, we’re committed to advancing responsible sourcing practices and animal welfare across the supply chain. We have served 100% cage-free shell eggs in the U.S. since 2015 and have pledged to extend the practice with both shell and liquid eggs globally by 2025.
And let’s not forget an often-overlooked aspect of breakfast: vegetables! Across all our menus, veggies offer appealing color, flavor, and nutrition to meet the demand for more plant-forward dishes. In October 2018, we partnered with food technology start-up JUST to launch its mung-bean egg substitute in select Aramark locations. “We are really excited to align with JUST’s mission, and consumers were really excited to have that choice for breakfast,” Maguire shares.
Rise and Shine
Breakfast proves to be a strong way for our clients and consumers to start, spend, and even end the day. And never-ending breakfast yields endless creativity—making this trend a win-win.
Says Maguire: “It’s something consumers are asking to see. Delivering against that expectation brings some fun into our lunch and dinnertime offerings.”