Waking Up to Foodservice

By Asad Amin

One of the biggest casualties of time-crunched contemporary life is breakfast, which has become one of the most-skipped meals in Canada. However, for the savvy foodservice operator, the first meal of the day offers fresh opportunities

Modern-Day Breakfast

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,” or so the saying goes. But how realistic is this statement in today’s age, particularly with the foodservice industry in mind?

Considering the time-crunched nature of contemporary life, putting this statement into practice is easier said than done. Our mornings in particular increasingly feel rushed as we try to juggle multiple tasks before we even have a chance to properly wake up. And for those of us with kids, preparing their meals for the day, getting them ready and dropping them off at school only adds to the morning chaos. With all of this in mind, who has time for having breakfast, let alone feasting like a king?

Looking to recent Ipsos FIVE data, we see a confirmed trend in line with this struggle: There has been steady growth over the past three years in the number of Canadians skipping breakfast. In fact, breakfast is back as the most-often skipped meal of the day, after lunch. Currently, one in four Canadians skip miss breakfast, a marked increase from 2015, when only one in five reported that they forego the meal. This is more common among adults with kids, as compared with their children. Canada’s parents are rightly prioritizing the nutritional needs of their children in the morning, but this is coming at the expense of their own morning nutritional needs (and, perhaps, their sanity).

However, while we see some softening of breakfast over all (including at home), this is not the case when it comes to foodservice. The growing popularity of breakfast outside the home continues slowly but surely, particularly among adults aged 18-49. This increase outside the home has undoubtedly contributed to the declining ‘eat rates’ of traditional breakfast foods such as ready-to-eat cereal and toast. Despite all of this, the foodservice industry has benefited as a result of these trends.

The Ipsos Foodservice Monitor shows breakfast foodservice traffic has grown by 2 per cent to a total of $9.8-billion over the past year. This growth is largely driven by QSRs, including coffee shops. A big contributor to this increased traffic is via the drive-thru channel, which accounts for 36 per cent of traffic at QSRs. And as expected, off-premise occasions account for the largest share of traffic in the morning (two-thirds). In Canada, breakfast consumption at home may have declined, but increasing numbers of Canadians are eating breakfast during their commute or at work or school. So, despite an overall decline in Canadians eating breakfast, there is good news for foodservice operators: The slowdown we see in home breakfast consumption is likely to result in steady growth in morning business for foodservice.

The 5 Hs

The confluence of needs surrounding “the 5 Hs” still applies at breakfast: Hunger, Health, Hurry, Habit and Hearty remain the key drivers of morning consumption. Operators and manufacturers alike need to ensure a steely-eyed focus to cater to these needs in order to optimally tap in to breakfast occasions.

Satiating hunger and having something hearty are obvious drivers for the morning – after all, most consumers have not eaten anything for at least eight hours when considering their breakfast. However, health and hurry drivers offer unique twists on what propels consumption behaviour during breakfast at foodservice. We see that health drivers are more aligned with mental uplift as opposed to nutritional wellness – attributes including “Picks me up/Gets me through the day,” “Helps me focus/think” and “Wanted something that gives me an energy boost” are all important for breakfast foodservice occasions. Similarly, hurry drivers are more aligned with breakfast being portable for on-the-go consumption as opposed to something to be eaten quickly. Building on all of this, the habit driver points to what consumers are accustomed to doing, underscoring the importance of offering consumers something reliable, uncomplicated and consistent day-to-day. Understanding the subtleties within each of the 5 Hs and how they interact is extremely important for successfully catering to Canadians’ breakfast preferences and driving true growth.

Menu Choice

There are more occasions with beverages consumed in the morning than the rest of the day. In fact, 80 per cent of foodservice traffic at breakfast includes some type of beverage. This indicates the importance of ensuring a beverage offering for your patrons in order to take advantage of this wide-spread morning habit. It should come as no surprise that coffee is the single most-ordered foodservice beverage at breakfast. After all, it is by far the most-ordered morning item irrespective of food or beverage.

In line with the need for portable food options, the breakfast sandwich maintains the lead as the most popular food item consumed at breakfast. The Canadian egg craze remains a morning force, and bagel consumption rates have also increased. Bakery items also tend to skew higher toward breakfast occasions, driven by coffee shops and bakeries in the QSR channel. It should come as no surprise that they are especially popular when paired with a coffee.

Liquid-Fuelling Millennials

In recent years, it seems the topic of millennials increasingly creeps in to discussions on just about any subject, especially in business. And this is for a good reason when it comes to foodservice – millennials are more than just a passing topic of interest in this environment. Many of their behaviours align with the key factors driving the continued success of breakfast in foodservice. Not only are they the driving force of change and growth for our industry, but they also represent a growing foodservice target during breakfast occasions; specifically, at QSR and coffee shops. We dubbed this cohort the “Liquid-Fuelling Generation” several years ago owing to their preference for a wide variety of beverage types – from cortados to kombucha. It is little wonder that an occasion so dependent on beverages will see strong growth from millennials. Their preference for specialty (espresso-based) and iced/cold coffee are primary reasons for driving the growth of these categories. In line with this trend, we see breakfast occasions at foodservice skew higher in urban centres, which have higher concentrations of younger Canadians relative to the rest of the country. Adding to the above, our data also validates that leading millennials are also more likely to have breakfast/brunch on weekends at restaurants compared with other demographics.

Foodservice Looking Forward

It is important to keep in mind the growing opportunity of the digital channel. There are few innovations that marry the convenience of pre-ordering quick pick-up, takeout and pre-payment better than a mobile app. Albeit still relatively small, you could not find a better platform to tap into the needs of Canadians surrounding convenience. Pre-ordering food via mobile or even being able to set and forget a regular order are just some of the vast opportunities for foodservice to benefit. More Canadians are ordering food via restaurant mobile apps in the morning as compared with other meals. And of course, this is clearly more popular among millennials. If you want a piece of this target (as well as the Gen Z cohort), then ensuring you play in the digital channel is table stakes.

YEMPs, which stands for Young Educated Millennial Parents, are becoming a force to be reckoned with in foodservice. Millennial parents now represent 12 per cent of the population (up 4 per cent from 2014), and their size and sphere of influence is expected to more than double over the next decade. As a growing segment of millennials approach parenthood, their eating and drinking decisions for their family will be critical to the future of food. There is no doubt that embarking on parenthood affects needs, priorities and food choices. Therefore, YEMPs cannot be ignored in any breakfast strategy, as they are time-crunched and more likely to already have the tendency to eat out. Catering to healthier fare to boost energy while demonstrating value will be the sweet spot in targeting this group.

Although not focused solely to the morning hours, all-day breakfast is also an important area to consider. While its success over all is still under evaluation, it has undeniably still struck a chord among the masses. With the continued blurring of the lines between occasions, the opportunity is ripe for offering non-traditional breakfast items in the morning, but only as long as it strikes the right mix on the 5 Hs. For example, how would Canadians respond to something specifically marketed as a breakfast burger? Foodservice innovations in this regard could also extend quite well in fulfilling morning-snack occasions beyond just breakfast.

Concluding Remarks

As Canadians increasingly search for higher-quality experiences, characterized by heightened focus on more fresh and real foods, less processed options, fewer and simpler ingredients and a wider array of authentic solutions that are conveniently available, a new level of decision-making engagement is emerging.

As engaged consumers become more purposeful in their choices, the gap between aspiration and action narrows. Although we are increasingly focused on health and wellness, transparency and expanding variety, the need for enjoyment should not be ignored, particularly when sourcing breakfast from foodservice. Our data indicates that while consumers are driven by healthier consumption drivers during the day, motivations related to satiating cravings and seeking indulgent items are still more developed in foodservice relative to breakfast at home.

While operators, manufacturers and retailers should innovate solutions targeted to individuals’ specific and personal needs as they relate to the 5 Hs in the morning, it is important to recognize the need to fulfill experiential and pleasurable consumer expectations for purchasing their breakfast at restaurants. Consumers are still opting for convenience, but they will not compromise the taste of their breakfast.


These findings are sourced from two studies within the Ipsos Food and Beverage Group. The primary source was The Ipsos Foodservice Monitor (FSM) consumption tracker; a continuous diary that tracks what Canadians ate and drank yesterday at any foodservice establishment. A sample of 36,500 Canadians are interviewed online annually using a 15-minute device agnostic questionnaire. The study reports on industry size and channels, visit details, party dynamics, menu choice, visit motivations and demographics, among many other metrics. Data was also sourced from the FIVE consumption study, which captures consumption across all venues, including in-home. FIVE is also an online tracker in field every day of the year with an annual sample size of 20,000 individuals.  

About the Author
Asad Amin is a Vice President with Ipsos and leads the Foodservice Monitor (FSM) and FIVE studies as part of the Ipsos Food and Beverage Group. The Group employs 13 full-time researchers. Based in Toronto, Asad leads the team of experts dedicated to serving the market research needs of Canada’s food and beverage industry. Asad can be contacted at asad.amin@ipsos.com or 647-292-1748.

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