Who Wants Breakfast? Profiling the breakfast consumer

From the summer 2018 issue of Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News

By Laura McGuire

Shifts in consumers’ breakfast habits often present a challenge for operators trying to grow morning sales. But understanding current consumer eating and purchasing patterns at breakfast can help restaurants better connect with guests. Let’s take a deep dive into today’s Canadian breakfast consumer to pinpoint areas of opportunity to drive traffic and grow cheque averages.

Who’s Eating When

Approximately a third of consumers are more likely to eat breakfast at home than other meals, according to Technomic’s Canadian Breakfast Consumer Trend Report, which surveyed 1,000 Canadians who eat breakfast away from home at least weekly. While this may not be good news for operators offering or thinking of venturing into breakfast, there are silver linings to consumers’ breakfast consumption behaviour.

For instance, three out of five consumers believe it is unhealthy to skip breakfast, a belief that skews heaviest for women, Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers and those with higher incomes. Consumers who do skip breakfast cite waiting too long to eat breakfast, not feeling hungry in the morning and choosing to drink coffee or a smoothie as their top reasons for skipping the oft-called most important meal of the day. Not liking breakfast and omitting breakfast for no reason are rarely named grounds for missing a morning meal.

Further, approximately a sixth of consumers say they have increased the frequency of breakfast purchases at restaurants over the past year, particularly younger generations. Both the importance placed on breakfast as part of a well-rounded diet and the growing consumption of away-from-home breakfast occasions provide operators with a large base of potential morning customers to lure into stores.

When breakfast is consumed, most eat between 7 and 9 a.m. on weekdays, and 8 and 11 a.m. on weekends. Older individuals and men are more likely to eat breakfast at earlier times throughout the week, while younger generations and women gravitate more to later times, especially on weekends when brunch presents an opportunity to socialize over a longer meal.

Away-from-home breakfast occasions most frequently occur on Fridays and weekends, whereas the beginning of the work week is the least likely time for foodservice breakfast purchases. Mondays are the day consumers are most likely to skip breakfast, which can be attributed to busy work schedules at the start of the week. Quick, portable breakfast solutions such as grab-and-go items and pay-ahead options could help guests fit breakfast into their busy agendas and operators build traffic during weekdays.

Who’s Eating Where

When deciding which restaurant to visit for breakfast, consumers today value a place that provides variety above all else. Approximately half agree that a diverse selection of dishes, preparations and flavours is important for operators to offer during breakfast occasions. This may include a menu mix of ethnic and traditional options, healthy and indulgent dishes, and customizable choices that let guests build their own breakfast to their exact preferences.

Beyond a sizeable menu assortment, value is another restaurant attribute that most resonates with diners in the morning. Two out of five consumers want combo meals that pair a breakfast item with a beverage, such as coffee cafe chain Country Style’s limited-time $2 Country Duo deal in the spring that offered a mini Danish with a medium coffee or tea.

Similarly, around a third of consumers want restaurants to offer value menus, coupons or specials. These discounts particularly cater to cash-strapped younger cohorts who haven’t realized their full spending power yet enjoy dining out. In fact, half of Gen-Zers say that the primary reason they eat breakfast at home is that it saves them money.

Other leading restaurant attributes operators should highlight at breakfast to drive traffic include signature items that guests feel they can’t get anywhere else, all-day morning offerings as snacks or later daypart meals, and unique items such as mashups. Examples of outside-the-box dishes that may pique consumers’ curiosity include egg-topped breakfast pizzas and burgers, ethnic breakfast baos and empanadas and shareable morning starters such as French toast sticks, candied bacon and breakfast bruschetta.

Although only a fifth of consumers find portable packaging for breakfast important, this attribute will likely grow in significance as consumers increasingly seek off-premise occasions that don’t compromise the quality of their orders. To stay at the forefront of packaging expectations, operators should focus on eco-friendly materials that retain the appropriate temperature and appearance during transit.

Who’s Eating What

Not only do consumers look to specific restaurant attributes when selecting where to go for breakfast, but they also look to certain menu attributes. Drilling into consumers’ expectations for their breakfast dish, quality is the highest-ranked attribute in a morning meal. Consumers may differ in their definitions of quality, but many currently relate the term to clean and premium ingredients. In Vancouver, the Red Wagon showcases quality by spotlighting cage-free eggs, house-cured and smoked preparations, and artisan items like goat cheese and pork belly in dishes such as eggs Benedict and omelettes.

The other two leading dish attributes, as chosen by roughly half of consumers, point to the functionality of breakfast for satiating hunger and fuelling the day. The weight consumers give to filling and energizing morning meals, especially compared to a lower emphasis on health, signals that operators could appeal to guests by highlighting heartier, protein-rich options. Even craveability is ranked below the practical and nutritional benefits of breakfast.

Consumer consumption behaviour will continue to change, particularly as younger generations exert greater influence on foodservice and become more family- and career-minded. To stay ahead of breakfast shifts, operators must consistently monitor and adopt emerging trends that entice consumers to purchase breakfast away from home. It’s said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—perhaps, that may be true for operators as much as consumers.


Laura McGuire is Content Director at Technomic. Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. Its services include publications and digital products, as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry. Visit www.technomic.com.

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