Fewer people are finding the time to enjoy a traditional sit-down breakfast these days, so operators must ensure they can cater for ever changing needs with a wide variety of offerings. Antony Adshead reports
The British breakfast is changing. Although the traditional full breakfast is still the choice of many, there's an emerging preference for healthy eating and food on the go.
The reason for the transition is that people's lifestyle patterns have changed enormously in recent decades. When manual work was still the norm for most, breakfast was designed to give you the 1,000 or more calories you needed to get through the morning.
Now people are mostly office-based and less physically active so they don't need the calorific intake they once did. However, we're working for longer than we used to, and so breakfast has to be fitted in to non-stop days. At the same time we want breakfast to be a much healthier meal too.
In response to the consumer demand for a healthy start to the day, the Weetabix Food Company has overhauled its range to provide portion-packs of its wholegrain products, and other suppliers are developing products to meet this need.
"The healthy-eating revolution is having a huge impact on breakfast," says Phil Cumming, brand director for RHM Foodservice. "Consumers are more aware now than ever before of the importance of a balanced, healthy diet and that breakfast plays a crucial role in achieving this. This doesn't necessarily mean people are making more time for breakfast, but they're making more of an effort to take it, whether it's grabbing a croissant to eat on the train on the way to work or eating a bagel in front of the computer once at work.
Given the increasing diversity of breakfast it's essential for caterers to accommodate the variety of people's preferences, says Lee Smith, senior brand manager at Bel UK Foodservice, which supplies cheeses such as Port Salut and Leerdammer to hotels catering for Continental guests who commonly eat cheese and cold meat at breakfast. "Greater pressure on working hours and social changes mean fewer people have time for a traditional sit-down breakfast. This change has repercussions for a range of operators who need to ensure they offer a traditional breakfast option for some guests as well as food that can be consumed on the go for people in a hurry," he says.
Paul Freeman, Douwe Egberts marketing manager, emphasises the flexibility operators need to provide with the availability of breakfast. "In hotels, particularly, time-pressed business travellers often have to leave the hotel before the breakfast room opens. One solution is to introduce an early-bird offering or, better still, have a coffee station in reception where guests can get free coffee 24 hours, seven days a week. This means guests checking out early or waiting for taxis to the airport, for example, can still enjoy a morning cup of coffee.
A wider range of options on the buffet table is a must according to Dave Howarth, commercial director at Woodward Foodservice. "Business people often have limited time in the mornings so it's best to tailor menus and include take-away choices. Bacon sandwiches, hot bagels, pastries and cereal bars are ideal, along with take-away drinks such as coffee, tea and smoothies.
With the variety of out-of-home breakfast alternatives available, making sure your offer is attractive in terms of variety, quality and health benefits is clearly vital. It's all the more important when you consider that 20% of people never eat breakfast. By making the first meal of the day an easy and attractive option you stand some chance of reaching this "lost" section of the market too.
"We have a situation where 50% of people skip breakfast once a week and one in five don't eat it at all," says Jenny Walton, a nutritionist with Kellogg's. "They're concerned about health, given the current awareness of obesity, and about time. Catering establishments need to remind people that breakfast is vital to good weight management, is a source of vitamins and minerals and a fuel for performance during the morning. Above all, caterers need to provide exciting choices while making breakfast convenient."
One way of tempting customers is by selecting good quality ingredients and indicating provenance. When it comes to marketing the full breakfast, using premium quality sausages and bacon and highlighting the origin of the meat will give the dish more appeal.
Tony Goodger, foodservice trade manager for the British Pig Executive (BPEX), says: "Using the best quality, well-sourced, fresh ingredients will give customers a real taste of the region and ensure they remember their meal for the right reasons."
In the hotel sector breakfast is often the last thing customers experience of the establishment, and it doesn't matter if guests have a great night's sleep the night before, if the breakfast isn't up to scratch that's what they remember when they leave.
"Breakfast is about quality products, and also about delivering an experience," says Anne Mulcahy, channel marketing manager with food service supplier Brakes. "This means offering choice, ranging from a traditional cooked breakfast to a healthy Continental-style, and quality - for example, products that will look as good at 8am as they did when they were put out at 6am."
David Clarke, chief executive officer of Best Western Hotels, says customers are more demanding of their food and the way it's served. "Although the traditional English breakfast had seen a decline in recent years I don't think it will ever be under threat within the hotel environment," he says. "Many guests feel it's a treat, something they don't eat at home and as such like to indulge on their break away.
"Over the past few years the gender split with breakfast has become much more noticeable. Female guests certainly head for the healthy option much more than men, especially when travelling for business reasons," he adds.
Most Best Western Hotels offer a self-serve buffet with waitress service for additional cooked items while room service for breakfast is also available. If people want to grab and go they can take items from the buffet and eat them whenever and wherever they like.
"The traditional English is definitely the most popular option, especially at weekends," says Mark Webster, operations manager at Best Western Mount Pleasant hotel. "Breakfast is mainly waitress service - unless the hotel is full at weekends when we offer a buffet self-service option. During the week we also offer a grab-and-go self-service area for those who need to leave the hotel before 7am. This option is definitely popular with our business guests, with cereals, pastries and croissants including refreshments available from 6am."
A selection of food at Best Western Mount Pleasant will typically include a selection of fresh fruit, cereals, muesli, yogurts, milk options such as skimmed and soya, porridge, fish and fresh cooked meats, plus English ingredients like poached or scrambled eggs, grilled sausage and bacon.
Changes in the nation's breakfast habits are mirrored in the workplace too. Here providers often have to compete with nearby shops and cafés, so variety and good quality are key. With workers putting in long hours, grab-and-go breakfasts are especially important.
John Bennett is managing director with contract caterer BaxterStorey, which has clients including Barclays Bank, mobile phone Network 3 and Ericsson and Nokia. He says they're serving more breakfasts than ever now. "We've seen a huge rise in the volume of breakfast items served. People are coming into work earlier to avoid traffic or because of their commute and they eat breakfast when they're at work," he says. "There's lots of self-service - the idea is of maximising choice, of shopping for your food in a way that's flexible and easy to use.
"Grab-and-go areas are not something you would have found in the past, but now we make provision for that and people can come and get what they want and take it to their desks - with pot foods, muesli, yogurts, low-fat cheeses, smoothies. The traditional breakfast still exists but more people graze these days - coming down for a bacon or sausage sandwich after having used the grab-and-go area when they arrived at work."
British breakfast trends are also evident in more specialised sectors of the contract careering market. Jeremy Ford is group chef in the Restaurant Associates brand of Compass, which provides hospitality food to fine-dining standards for investment bank clients in the capital.
This includes catering for meeting room food - finger food that people can eat without interrupting meetings. "This comprises five or six miniature breakfast items on a plate," says Ford. "The butler or waiter puts the plate to one side of the person while the meeting is in progress and leaves them to it. They include things like a small serving of smoothie, some fruit, a miniature bagel with parma ham or smoked salmon and crème fraîche, a warm bacon muffin and poached haddock and egg."
Bel UK Foodservice, 01622 774800, www.bel-uk.co.uk
Brakes, 0845 606 9090, www.brake.co.uk
British Pig Executive (BPEX), 01908 844368, www.bpex.org
Douwe Egberts, 0845 271 1818, www.douwe-egberts.com
Kellogg's Foodservices, 0161-869 2000, www.kelloggsfoodservice.co.uk
RHM Foodservice, 0800 328 4246, ww.rhmfoodservice.co.uk
Weetabix, 01536 722181, www.weetabix.co.uk
Woodward Foodservice, 0870 600 6465, www.woodward-foodservice.com