All-day breakfast: Is Canada late to the table?

By Rita Negrete

A large and vocal cohort of Canadians was disappointed that the McDonald’s experiment with all-day breakfast in its U.S. units won’t be duplicated in Canada—at least not for now. Nor are quick-service competitors rushing into the breach. Canada’s iconic Tim Hortons, for instance, made news when it extended weekday breakfast to noon a few years ago, but has made no move since then to push the morning meal into the afternoon or evening (even though, like McDonald’s, it’s doing so in U.S. units).

The reluctance of quick-service restaurants (QSRs) to jump on the all-day-breakfast bandwagon might seem puzzling, given that breakfast and brunch offerings are quite popular in fast-casual and full-service restaurants across Canada, both in the morning and later in the day. Many bakery cafés offer breakfast-type fare until close; indeed, egg dishes, primarily sandwiches, are the fastest-growing type of lunch entrée in this cluster, according to Technomic. Denny’s, the family-dining chain famous for its breakfast-oriented offerings, has been well received in the Canadian market, with sales in the country rising almost 20 per cent last year—and readers of Straight.com named Denny’s all-day breakfast the best in Vancouver.

Canada also has its own homegrown crop of breakfast-and-lunch-only chains (Cora’s, Ben & Florentine, Tutti Frutti, Eggsmart, Eggsquis and Eggspectation) that serve the same well-received menu for both dayparts, typically into the early afternoon. And there’s a robust and growing independent-restaurant brunch culture in major cities, with a number of eateries offering brunch as late as 3 p.m. even on weekdays.

Is there room for Canadian concepts to differentiate themselves with extended breakfast? Of consumers polled for Technomic’s recently released Canadian Breakfast Consumer Trend Report, 41 per cent indicated they enjoy eating breakfast foods at nontraditional times, such as pancakes and eggs for dinner or a late-night meal; another 31 per cent agree somewhat, for a total of 72 per cent. All-day breakfast is widely popular across all ages and genders.

The popularity of all-day breakfast

Based on this finding, the report calls out all-day breakfast as a key trend for the future. There’s plenty of room for more menu offerings of “breakfasty” foods to find favour with consumers for lunch, dinner and snack time.

What’s holding back breakfast?

Yet adding morning-meal items to the lunch and dinner menu is not quite the no-brainer it would at first seem, particularly for limited-service restaurants.

While breakfast fare usually features low ingredient costs (a plus for operators), it also generally means low menu prices compared to alternatives (a definite negative). Menu developers might consider offering breakfast-type items with high-end ingredients (artisan cheeses, unusual sausages, seasonal fruits) to appeal to afternoon or evening patrons in a mood for something a bit out of the ordinary and willing to pay a premium for it.

To avoid competition with profitable centre-of-the-plate items, operators can also position breakfast-type items sold later in the day as snacks, points out Calla Farn, vice president of government/public relations at McCain Foods. “Operators can add shareable, smaller versions of breakfast items as starters, which would help increase the average check size,” she says.

LSRs generally operate with small kitchens, limited griddle/grill space and minimal staff, so expanding the menu with a whole new category can be difficult. It’s no surprise that corporate and franchised McDonald’s units across the U.S. have had to reorganize and upgrade kitchen processes, and sometimes purchase additional cooking equipment, to make extended breakfast a reality. And while the breakfast menu offered after 10:30 a.m. has been a big hit with customers, some McDonald’s operators have complained of kitchen logjams and service slowdowns. However, two key moves that McDonald’s made to simplify the all-day-breakfast rollout could be copied by other operators:

  • It pre-emptively removed from its lunch and dinner menu several less-profitable offerings, and
  • Limited the extended breakfast menu to a few popular items.

“Keep the menu simple,” Farn advises. “Try to incorporate just a couple of key breakfast ingredients into your current lunch or dinner lineup, like eggs. But combine them with the items you already have, like fries.”

Canadian consumers—and particularly younger consumers—continue to move further away from rigid rules about what to eat and when. Egg dishes and other items typically found on the breakfast menu have proven appeal as meals or snacks later in the day. Operators and chefs who can devise attention-getting menus for extended breakfast—and solve the operational challenges—can differentiate themselves from competitors, particularly in limited service.

Four bold ideas for all-day breakfast

Compared to the typical morning clientele, consumers eating breakfast or brunch later in the day are likely more interested in assertive, innovative flavours. Here are a few ideas.

  1. Poutine panorama

If there’s a uniquely Canadian comfort food, it’s poutine. This basic combo of fries, cheese curds and gravy is easily given a “breakfast” accent. “A breakfast poutine with golden fries topped with poached eggs and bacon, smothered in gravy or hollandaise sauce, is quite common these days,” says Farn.

Breakfast poutines rolled out in the past year include a Bacon Poutine at Carl’s Jr. and two items at Nickels Deli & Bar: Breakfast Poutine with potatoes, bacon, smoked meat, cheese curds, Nickels sauce and a poached egg, and Benedict Poutine with an egg, ham, potatoes, cheese curds and hollandaise. But daring new poutines not marketed specifically for breakfast could work equally well for a daypart-spanning menu:

  • Mexican Poutine (Dunn’s Famous)—with seasoned ground beef garnished with banana peppers, shallots, cheddar cheese and sour cream
  • Chorizo Poutine (Montana’s BBQ & Bar)—seasoned fries topped with cheese curds, beef gravy and roasted chorizo sausage, garnished with creamy fry dip and fresh green onions
  • Smokey Sweet Poutine (Wimpy’s Diner)—sweet-potato fries, hot banana peppers, chopped bacon, cheese curds, grilled onions, Wimpy’s gravy and chipotle sauce
  1. Ethnic breakfast fare

Most Canadian consumers (62 per cent) agree at least somewhat that they’d like to see more new or unique items on breakfast menus, and half (49 per cent) agree at least somewhat that they would like to see more ethnic items on these menus. Offering ethnically inspired fare could appeal to consumers looking for unique breakfast items later in the day.

Examples of ethnic breakfast handhelds at Canadian restaurants:

Egg-Vocado Gourmet Breakfast Sandwich (Cultures) —egg salad, avocado, spinach and jalapeño-lime aïoli on an artisan ciabatta roll

Chorizo Breakfast Burger (ABC Country Restaurant)—a chorizo patty topped with Canadian cheddar, a sunny-side-up egg, housemade tomato chutney, mayo and avocado on a hamburger bun, served with a side of hash browns and fruit

Spicy Chorizo Breakfast Wrap (Tim Hortons) —spicy chorizo sausage, cheddar cheese, scrambled egg patty, sautéed peppers and onions with spicy mayo, nestled in a white tortilla and grilled

  1. Sweet sensations

Sweet flavours have been a big part of Canadian breakfasts since the first divine pairing of Quebec maple syrup with pancakes. But today’s diners seem to be seeking novel flavour jolts that will make them sit up and take notice. Again, these items are likely to be especially popular with those who order breakfast fare at nontraditional times, since they can double as a snack or dessert.

Examples of recently introduced sweet offerings from FSRs and LSRs:

Brie & Blueberries French Toast (Ben & Florentine) —with raisin bread, blueberries, Brie cheese, almonds, granola, honey and vanilla yogurt

Banana French Toast (Cora’s) —with chocolate-hazelnut spread, cream cheese and caramel, part of a new gluten-free menu

Nutella-filled Banana Nut Muffin—part of a new lineup of chocolate-hazelnut pastries and frozen drinks at Coffee Culture Café & Eatery

Gooey syrups and fillings aren’t a comfortable mix with portability—a key demand of LSR customers—but there’s room for development of all-day-breakfast handhelds that conquer this limitation, such as items that feature maple syrup on the inside rather than the outside.

  1. Coffee’s brewing

Three of the top four restaurant chains in Canada—Tim Hortons, McDonald’s and Starbucks—all have seen sales gains linked to their strong identification with coffee. Chains identified with a robust breakfast daypart are stepping up their game on coffee offerings. Starbucks Canada announced the national rollout of its premium Cold Brew Coffee; Tim Hortons introduced Limited Batch Sumatran coffee in Vancouver, one of a new series of custom-roasted, small-batch, limited-time coffees sourced from fabled coffee regions around the world; and Second Cup has been promoting iced coffee beverages including the Iced Mocca Red Eye—iced coffee with a shot of espresso and chocolate syrup.

Tea—including iced tea—is also having its moment. Starbucks is adding new carbonation and juice options to its Teavana line, including Teavana Sparkling Black Tea & Tangerine and Teavana Sparkling Passion Tango Tea & Pineapple. Premium coffees, teas, juices and smoothies (like the recently offered Tropical Sunshine Smoothie at Timothy’s World Coffee) can complement all-day-breakfast menu offerings, adding interesting new snacking alternatives while boosting check averages.


About the author:

Rita Negrete, senior editor at leading research and consulting firm Technomic, writes about food, business and consumer trends and their real-world implications for restaurant operations. For more information, visit www.technomic.com.

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