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The changing face of breakfast

The changing face of breakfast

It’s well known as the most important meal of the day, but consumer ideas about what constitutes breakfast – and the where, when, why and how of eating it – have changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. Rosie Birkett reports.

While the consumer appetite for sitting down for a traditional cooked breakfast in the local greasy spoon café may be relegated to the nostalgic depths of Britain’s past – as the pace of lifestyle quickens, wallets tighten and health concerns govern – 40% of people are still sinking their teeth into bought breakfasts in their myriad manifestations.

With more people than ever working and travelling, the first meal of the daily cycle has never been eaten in so many contexts, or required so many breakfast solutions – from cereal packs, croissants, fruit pots and bacon butties to porridge, smoothies, yogurts and granola.

Breakfasts may vary greatly in terms of how they’re made up, but Moving Food consultant Stephen Minall thinks it’s too simplistic to try to categorise breakfast consumer types. “We used to think that breakfast consumers could be broken down into categories, but it’s changed,” he says.

“Even if you’re staying in a hotel room that costs £300 a night you might still like beans on toast and a bacon butty occasionally. It crosses all age groups and socio-economic profiles. You can go and see that just by sitting in a McDonald’s restaurant on a busy round-about: there’s everyone there from young mums to rich bankers, grabbing something to eat on the go.

“In hotels, sit-down breakfasts are in decline – mainly because people have busier lifestyles, more people are commuting, and they know that when they’re on the go they can find something wherever they are.”

According to Minall, the breakfast market for operators has never been more varied, competitive or saturated. “There’s probably heavier competition at breakfast than at dinner these days,” he says, citing the success of pub brands Wetherspoons and Town and City (Yates), which have both introduced 99p coffees and cheap breakfast deals.

“Since these recessionary times have set in most of the pasty companies have also now added bacon butties and sausage butties, and even the upmarket bakery Paul’s is now, rather surprisingly, selling bacon and sausage butties and sandwiches at a lower price point to get people in.”


As well as pubs and pasty companies getting in on the breakfast action alongside traditional breakfast cafés and long-time fast food purveyors like McDonald’s, Minall also points to the fact that supermarket chains, such as Asda, Morrisons and Tesco, have eat-in and takeaway breakfast restaurants.

“Everybody’s at it, so the competition is very wide and varied across all socio-economic profiles,” explains Minall. “Whether you’re 18 or 80 there will be somewhere, from an A road to a service station forecourt – which are now serving bean-to-cup coffee – where you can get breakfast in some way, shape or form.”

So how can operators compete in such a frenetic market? “It depends on what you’re trying to attract,” adds Minall. “The key ideas are still around freshness, the smells of coffee and bacon, but breakfast has changed considerably. It’s now everything from a banana and a muffin to breakfast paninis and wraps to whatever’s convenient, hand-held and quick.

“Be creative, be diverse – freshly squeezed orange juice isn’t going to win over the general public and it’s expensive to do. It’s a point of difference but it’s not going to make people flow in because the majority of orange juice they drink at home is going to be acceptable.”

Research carried out by Mintel this year into breakfast catering outside the home found that the majority of consumers eat breakfast either at their desk at work (33%) or on the move (23%), which backs up Minall’s point about the decline in hotel breakfasts, and the importance of offering a grab-and-go option.

“Most hotels aren’t set up for take-away breakfasts – they don’t have the right take-away coffee cups or packaging for sandwiches. To compete, you have to have an element of very instant grab-and-go and an instant way of paying because that’s the culture we’re living in. Those are the challenges,” adds Minall.


One hotel that has cottoned on to this is the Metropolitan in London, which offers a take-out “Brekky to Go” for guests with busy schedules, and complementary coffee, juice and pastries in the lobby from 6-7am for guests who need to leave early.

The take-out breakfast comprises three options (London: toasted sandwich; Paris: pastries; and New York: yogurt and granola) which all come with tea or coffee and freshly-pressed juice, and range from £12 to £15.

“It was created for people who have to shoot off to a meeting or leave to catch a flight, so that they have another option to consider,” explains Jo James, marketing manager for Como Hotels.

“It’s a response to corporate, room-only contracts and travel expenses in general. We wanted to create something that was cost- conscious – while still providing the Metropolitan experience.”

For Chris Piper, commercial director of contract caterer Artizian (which runs white collar B&I sites inside and outside London), creating the right breakfast offering is a complex balance. “Generally speaking, London tends to be busier for breakfast because, outside London, people tend to eat before they come to work,” he explains. “We’ve got sites where we have a full breakfast range including yogurt bars, fruit

bars, full cooked breakfasts, and sites where we don’t do full breakfasts but small items like sausage and bacon baps, which are always popular wherever you are. Then we have other sites where the offer is simply coffee and hot pastries or muffins.”


Piper observes that the recession-induced efficiency drive in most companies has had an impact on breakfasts, with B&I sites limiting their cooked breakfasts to specific time frames.

“Most companies have a much wider efficiency now in terms of HR departments and financial directors who want people at their desks by 9am, so they want breakfast to finish then, not have people milling about all day getting breakfast – this is also a driver for hand-held items like bacon baps.”

Piper highlights the importance of observing the changes in eating habits throughout the week. “Friday morning is the most popular day for full breakfasts – we also run brunch throughout the morning in some sites because companies allow flexible working and let staff leave earlier, before lunch.

“People often come in on a Monday, having overeaten at the weekend, and they want to be sensible, but as the week goes on that changes.”

Like Minall, he echoes the importance of efficiency and convenience. “The trend is towards hot, hand-held items, like bacon butties and pastries, with a cup of coffee – things that can be eaten on the hoof. But there’s also a trend towards porridge, fruit bars and smoothie bars. No matter what market sector you’re in you’ll get those who want cooked breakfast and those who want lighter things.

“People like a sense of provenance – good quality sausages and bacon – not necessarily a full English but a combination of coffee, grab and go, porridge pots, rolls or sandwiches. Offer choice and accept that some people will want muesli and yogurt with nuts and seeds, and others will want hot breakfast meats.”


1 Toast
2 Cereal – eg, Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies
3 Hot cereal – eg, porridge
4 Fruit
5 Full English breakfast – eg, bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes
6 Yogurt or yogurt drink
7 Muesli/granola
8 Hot roll – eg, bacon or sausage sandwich
9 Sliced bread or bread roll
10 Breakfast bars – eg, cereal bars

Source: Mintel Breakfast Catering UK, April 2010


In a survey on out-of-home breakfasts conducted among 300 diners by The Mystery Dining Company, 66% said they ate breakfast out of home at least once a week and 34% ate breakfast out of home between three and seven times a week.

When asked how much they were prepared to spend on breakfast out of home, 58% said up to £5, 36% up to £10 with 6% willing to spend over £10 per breakfast visit.

In terms of what customers are looking for on a menu, 50% said that an outlet’s ability to offer lots of healthy options was key, although “healthy” doesn’t just refer to calorie count but also includes dairy- and wheat-free options, locally sourced produce and good quality ingredients.

Only 20% wanted a full English breakfast, although a cooked option is popular, with another 23% wanting other types of cooked breakfasts such as kippers and scrambled eggs on toast.

Fifty-five percent of diners said an all-day breakfast menu would attract them to use an outlet and 30% said the inclusion of well-known branded breakfast goods would influence their choice of where to eat breakfast.

When asked to suggest new breakfast menu items that they would like to see added to a menu, responses included increased vegetarian options; cold meats and cheese; a wider choice of bread; US-style breakfast of bagels, pancakes, sour dough, maple syrup, muffins; wider choice of fruit juices and seasonal fresh fruits; and more locally sourced produce.


Mintel says that six in 10 consumers never eat breakfast out of home, with women aged 55+ being the hardest consumer group to target for the out-of-home breakfast market.

It indicates that operators need to develop more reasons to do so if they are to persuade reluctant consumers out of their homes for breakfast. A relaxed restaurant atmosphere is more likely to attract the retired consumers than grab-and-go options, while offering all-in-one continental breakfast options (eg, yogurt, fresh fruit, croissants, ham and cheese) may help change consumers’ opinions that it’s more convenient to eat breakfast at home.

Giving evening restaurant diners a take-home taster of the breakfast menu might also act as the catalyst needed for these consumers to try out-of-home breakfast options.

Source: Mintel Consumer Breakfast Eating Habits UK, February 2010


Glyn and Helen Williams took over Stocks Café & Bistro in the historic market town of Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, in 2005 and have turned it into a tourist hotspot for visitors to the High Peak, as well as earning a loyal customer base locally.

The café recently triumphed in potato supplier Aviko’s Great British Breakfast competition and earned a highly commended award in the finals of Derbyshire’s Food & Drink Awards.

“We use as many local ingredients as we can in the breakfast,” says Glyn.

“It’s about supporting the local economy and in return, the community supports us. It also reduces our food miles: wherever possible we aim to minimise our impact on the environment. We are the only café to be given an environmental quality award by the Peak District National Park Authority, which is something we highlight to our customers, as a great many of them are as passionate about the environment as we are.”

Stocks Café’s Big Breakfast features Tissington Old Bangers and Packington bacon, both from free-range pigs in Packington, free-range eggs from the Good News Family Care charity and black pudding from the White Peak Farm Butchery.

“The breakfast offers a taste of the High Peak, which appeals hugely to tourists coming to the area. It offers the regionality, quality and variety customers expect in a traditional breakfast, and I can sell it for £5.95 and maintain a good gross profit,” explains Glyn.

Tony Goodger, food service trade manager for BPEX (the division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which represents pig levy payers in England), urges caterers to source the best quality ingredients for a full English breakfast.

He says: “Using Quality Assured pork products, including bacon and sausages that carry logos such as the Red Tractor, will not only deliver on taste but also on issues such as traceability, welfare and country of origin. When it comes to ingredients for the cooked breakfast, quality plain, smoked and Wiltshire cured bacon are best suited to the occasion, rather than sweet cures.

“Premium ‘breakfast’ sausages are ideal too. Often thinner in size, a breakfast sausage contains pork with some light seasoning. Because of their size, a thin sausage and a thick-cut rasher of bacon will cook under a grill in approximately the same time, helping chefs serve a freshly cooked meal to order in less than 10 minutes.”

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