CHICAGO -- Convenience stores have owned the morning for a long time. Coffee purchases, patronage and loyalty is strong, allowing retailers to play off that strength by developing robust breakfast programs, anchored by sandwiches, as a complementary accompaniment to that core beverage offering. But while the daypart is performing well with consumers, opportunities still exist to enhance and improve breakfast in the convenience segment; to that end, it's important for retailers to keep their ear to the ground and stay aware of how breakfast trends are playing out in competitive segments.
In the restaurant space, some of these trends include second breakfast, "snackified" items, chicken at breakfast and more. As more restaurant chains boost their breakfast game (and many expand it all day), knowing what consumers crave most in the morning will be even more essential for c-store chains.
Our colleagues at Restaurant Business recently released the results of a Technomic survey that gauged craveability of breakfast. Click through to uncover the 10 chains that recent customers say offer the most craveable breakfast starches, egg dishes and other breakfast items out of the leading brands surveyed for Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics, powered by Ignite. The chains are ranked from 10th to first in order of the percentage of recent diners who say the breakfast items are craveworthy and one of a kind.
10. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
Almost a sixth of recent customers say they can’t get their Cracker Barrel breakfast fix anywhere else. Of all the items on Cracker Barrel’s vast breakfast menu, by far the greatest callout in the verbatims is for the Hashbrown Casserole side. The $2.79 side—also the most-ordered item on the menu, per People—is described on the menu as a “country vegetable” that’s “prepared traditional country style right here in our kitchen.” Numerous guests also point to the biscuits as a craveable item—they’re featured as a side and in various entrees with gravy, eggs and as a sandwich base.
9. Bob Evans
Breakfast at Bob Evans is a craveable menu feature that over a fifth of recent customers say they can only get there. Sausage and sausage gravy are top callouts in the verbatims, with one respondent sayin, “They have the No. 1 sausage, in my opinion.” The Bob Evans Sausage Gravy Breakfast features a bowl of sausage gravy served with biscuits and hash browns, home fries or grits—it’s a top callout among consumers. Survey respondents also list biscuits in general as a crave-inducing item more often than any of the griddle or egg breakfast items.
8. Village Inn
More than one in five consumers say that breakfast at Village Inn is a craveable feature they can only get at that brand. No one item in particular stands out in the verbatims—a couple mentions for omelets, skillets, pancakes, French toast, eggs and crepes pop up; however, many point to this variety as a craveable factor of Village Inn, with one consumer specifically listing the “expansive breakfast menu” as craveworthy. And this verbatim is also backed by the menu gap analysis—Village Inn has a total of 209 items on its menu, compared to just 173 items on average for midscale family-style chains. Its menu item total exceeds that of IHOP, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, Waffle House and Bob Evans.
More than a fifth of recent customers say they can’t get their Chick-fil-A breakfast fix anywhere else. The sole chain that’s not in the midscale family-style segment, Chick-fil-A launched its first breakfast item in 1986 (the Chicken Biscuit) and has since extended to around eight other breakfast sandwiches, as well as fruit cups and a Greek yogurt parfait, both of which are listed as craveable items in the verbatims. Two folks also point to the quick-service chain’s Chick-n-Minis mini chicken sandwiches as crave-inducing, with one respondent saying they like to eat the product as a snack.
6. Perkins Restaurant & Bakery
Over a quarter of recent customers find breakfast craveworthy at Perkins. Mammoth Muffins are the top callout in the verbatims, with respondents pointing to the freshness and large size of the muffins as being craveable features. In addition, pancakes are a common listing, with specific varieties like Lemon Blueberry and Blueberry Banana as top mentions in the verbatims.
5. Huddle House
Over three-tenths of recent customers crave the breakfast at Huddle House. Waffles are the top callout among respondents, with one saying “I just love their waffles,” and another stating Huddle House has a “real good waffle.” All three waffle varieties are listed in vertabims, including the standard Golden Waffle, Southern Pecan Waffle and Strawberry Topped Waffle. Country Fried Steak follows waffles as a top listing in the verbatims—Huddle House’s is featured with white pepper country gravy and is served as a platter with two eggs, grits or hash browns, and toast. And Stuffed Hashbrowns round out the top three verbatim mentions—they feature breakfast meats, scrambled eggs and American cheese stuffed between layers of hash browns.
More than three in 10 recent customers crave Denny’s breakfast and say they can’t get it anywhere else. Although breakfast all day is a feature of many chains on this list, more commenters mention this aspect as being craveworthy in the Denny’s verbatims compared to other chains, with statements like “Breakfast items late at night,” “Breakfast items anytime I crave it” and “Breakfast whenever I want.” Other comments on craveability relate to the quality and freshness of Denny’s breakfast, with write-ins like “Quality items” and “The food is always fresh.” These statements appear more often than any one particular item callout as crave-inducing.
3. First Watch
Almost two-fifths of recent customers say that First Watch serves up mouthwatering breakfast items they can’t get anywhere else. The sheer breadth of options is what consumers crave most about First Watch’s breakfast: “Some of the veg omelets,” “Several breakfast choices” and “Some of their pancake flavors and some of their omelet combinations” are all write-ins, while a wide variety of specific options are also mentioned. Numerous consumers also point to various health components of First Watch’s breakfast as being craveable, including “Organic quinoa bowl,” “Multigrain products,” “Fresh health food” and “Good vegetarian or vegan options.”
2. Waffle House
Although Waffle House trails behind IHOP, Denny’s and Cracker Barrel in sales, the midscale chain ranks second in consumers’ most-craved breakfast chains, with more than half of recent customers hankering for its breakfast. Unsurprisingly, the eponymous waffle—available in regular or pecan varieties with peanut butter or chocolate chips as toppings—is the leading mention in the verbatims, with consumers pointing to the fact that it’s a signature of the Waffle House brand: “No one else makes them like Waffle House” and “Nobody does it better.” Hash browns are another hit among consumers. The many varieties make them craveable to many respondents: “Different ways to fix hash browns,” “Breakfast items the way I want them” and “Variety of hash browns.” Waffle House’s Hashbrowns come in three sizes and are available in eight varieties.
Almost seven in 10 consumers rate IHOP’s breakfast as craveworthy, elevating this breakfast to the most craveable top spot. Just like waffles are the top hit at Waffle House, so are pancakes at the International House of Pancakes. Almost 15 varieties are available, and while many simply list generic “pancakes” as being craveable in the verbatims, many consumers have their specific favorites, ranging from Red Velvet Pancakes to New York Cheesecake Pancakes. Variety is a huge factor in craveworthiness for both pancakes and other breakfast fare, with callouts like “A variety of syrups,” “Different types of pancakes,” “Crepe varieties” and “Variety of French toast.” Seasonality is also a hit, with respondents listing “Holiday-oriented waffles” and “Seasonal pancakes or waffles” as crave-inducing.