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Breakfast: ready, set, eat

Shoppers have woken up to the fact that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.

Breakfast is easily the most habit-driven meal of the day. Nearly half of all people say that what they eat first thing in the morning is decided by routine. But even the most diehard patterns can be broken. Take Cheryl Lundrigan, for example. For most of her adult life, breakfast consisted of nothing but coffee. A few months ago, however, a personal fitness trainer suggested Lundrigan find a better way to jump-start her metabolism in the morning. Rather than a bucket of java, what she needed was fibre and protein.

“So I decided to create a new morning routine,” says the 53-year-old sales manager from Woodstock, Ont. Now, instead of turning on the coffee pot, she fires up her blender, whipping up a smoothie of almond milk, protein powder, a banana, chia seeds and sometimes a dollop of peanut butter or half an apple. “It’s nearly as quick and easy to make as coffee. And it’s so delicious that as soon as I wake up, I can’t wait to eat breakfast,” says Lundrigan.

While banana smoothies may not be to everyone’s taste, Lundrigan’s decision to change her morning eating habit fits into a growing trend, according to NPD Group’s latest “Eating Patterns in Canada” report. In 2005, the average Canadian missed breakfast 42 times a year, or once every nine days. By 2008 that number had dropped to 35 and continues to fall, says Joel Gregoire, industry analyst at NPD Group. “This change can be attributed to simple food options that can be consumed at breakfast, as well as an aging population; the older we get, the less likely we are to skip breakfast.”

As manufacturers add new products that make it easier, healthier and tastier to fuel up in the morning, there are fewer reasons to skip the morning meal. And that’s good news for anyone selling breakfast foods. Lundrigan, for instance, now spends an extra $15 a week on smoothie ingredients at her local grocery store.

Although it’s estimated that 10% of Canadians still give breakfast a miss (according to Nielsen data provided by Quaker Oats), regular breakfast eaters already contribute billions of dollars to grocery store sales every year. Cold cereal, toast and fruit remain the top three breakfast foods. But yogurt, hot cereal and others are gaining popularity.

Sales of ready-to-eat cereal alone added up to nearly $1.2 billion (up 4% in dollars and 2% in units) across all retail channels in Canada, according to Nieslen data for the year ending March 13, 2010 (see chart on page 71). Dollar volume for hot cereal rose 5% to $143 million. Meanwhile, the natural/organic subcategory is growing at a remarkable 12%, says Kylie McMullan, spokesperson for Nature’s Path.

Toast, yes; eggs, no

Toast remains a top breakfast food, but sales of fresh breakfast bakery items haven’t fared well. Except for hot cross buns, all segments declined in the last year. On the other hand, dollar sales of jams, jellies and marmalades gained 7%, to reach $165 million. Tonnage and unit volume have remained relatively flat for the past several years, but category growth has been achieved by pricing increases and higher sales of premium-priced items, explains Mary Ann Kim, group marketing manager at J. M. Smucker Company, which recently launched a premium-priced no-sugar line of fruit spreads. Peanut butter, another morning favourite, jumped 8% to $193 million.

Aggressive marketing by maple syrup producers helped drive sales of “real” maple syrup by 20% to nearly $54 million. Table syrups (the fake stuff) gained only 4% in dollars. To go with all this syrup, consumers also bought more pancake and waffle mixes: dollars grew 12%.

Yogurt, another massive category worth a whopping $1.2 billion in all-channel sales, isn’t strictly a breakfast food, but it is becoming more popular in the morning because it satisfies numerous eating trends, says Jasmina Pita, brand manager for yogurt at Parmalat Canada. “It requires no preparation and is available in many flavours, milk fats and varieties.”

So where does this leave good old bacon and eggs–at one time the quintessential home breakfast? It’s now eaten in restaurants because bacon and eggs takes a lot more time to make than cereal and toast, says Gregoire. “When eating out, consumers are more likely to eat hot breakfast foods.”

Still, hot foods aren’t entirely out of vogue. For instance, flavoured bacon represents just a fraction of the total bacon category, but dollar sales increased by 13%. Frozen hash browns also saw double-digit dollar growth, rising 14%.

Mike Belliveau, owner of Mike’s Foodland in Tatamagouche, N.S., thinks the trick with hot foods is making it easier for consumers to prep the meal. Recognizing that lack of time often holds people back from making egg dishes, Belliveau started to put out omelette ingredient mixes of chopped peppers, onions and mushrooms at the produce counter as a convenience item. “You just have to sprinkle the beaten egg over the mix in a frying pan,” he explains. Belliveau also includes the omelette mix in cross-merchandising displays on cooler ends with egg and bacon varieties. “It works particularly well on a long weekend,” says Belliveau.

While convenience is a critical feature in just about every meal these days, it’s even more important first thing in the morning. “The vast majority of Canadians don’t want to spend more than five minutes preparing breakfast,” says Kim. Anything that makes the process easier will become popular. One recent fast and easy innovation from Smucker is the introduction of fruit spreads in no-mess, squeezable bottles.

Start your morning off with… variety

It’s hard to think of anything easier than pouring cold cereal into a bowl and adding milk. But consumers don’t just want easy, they also want healthy. “Making nutritious choices, like eating 100% whole grain foods, fibre and calcium, has become increasingly important to consumers,” explains Kathryn Matheson, vice-president of marketing for Quaker, PepsiCo Canada. And for consumers who prefer hot cereal, Quaker has upped the convenience quotient with the introduction of Quaker 100% Whole Grain Oatmeal packets that are ready to eat in one minute.

Whole grain is also a key ingredient in cereals from General Mills Canada, says Dale Storey, vice-president of marketing. So, with convenience and health already covered, General Mills launched a new flavour, Banana Nut, to its Cheerios line. “Consumers typically have about eight boxes of cereal in their pantry. We try to bring out new variety and innovation in cereal every couple of years,” says Storey.

For ultimate on-the-go convenience, however, shoppers can always grab a cereal or granola bar, a category now worth $104 million in Canada, says McMullan at Nature’s Path. The latest bar offerings feature whole grains, fibre and functional ingredients such as calcium, omega-3s and antioxidants. Ingredients such as maple, chocolate, peanut butter and fruit ensure they taste good, too.

Orange juice traditionally rounds out any breakfast, and versions with added calcium, omega-3 and prebiotics have been out for awhile. One of the latest new products under A. Lassonde’s Oasis Health Break line is an orange juice fortified with a natural ingredient called Wellmune, which is good for the immune system. The timing couldn’t have been better. Last winter’s H1N1 scare got more Canadians thinking about their immunity to disease, says Caroline Croteau, brand manager at Lassonde. The company has also added a line of single-serve fruit smoothies suitable for on-the-go health-conscious consumers.

With so many convenient, healthy and tasty options available for breakfast, hopefully there will be fewer excuses for skipping the morning meal. And that should make grocers feel good, too.

4 Merchandising Tips

1. Since breakfast tends to include a variety of different foods, cross-merchandise complementary products together, such as peanut butter and jam, granola and fruit, and bacon and eggs.

2. Use flyers, in-store signage and websites to remind shoppers about the health benefits of eating breakfast.

3. Inspire consumers to taste and experience new breakfast products through in-store demos, take-home recipes and coupons.

4. Encourage multiple purchases by displaying different flavours that appeal to different household members. For instance, mom and dad may like one kind of oatmeal and the kids may prefer another.

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