CHICAGO — They don’t call breakfast the most important meal of the day for nothing. Ninety percent of c-store operators serve breakfast, and more than one in four (37%) expect breakfast to have the highest rate of sales growth of all the dayparts in 2020, according to CSP’s sister research firm, Technomic.
Nonetheless, breakfast consumption is slowly declining. A fifth of consumers overall said they skip breakfast at least once a week, a 2% increase from 2017, according to Technomic’s 2019 Breakfast Consumer Trend Report. This decline hinders retailers’ abilities to grow sales during the morning daypart.
“The biggest problem retailers have with successful foodservice programs is consistency,” said Jerry Weiner, consulting partner for c-store consultancy b2b Solutions LLC, Lake Forest, Ill., and former head of foodservice for Rutter’s and MAPCO. “If you’re still selling frozen, microwavable foods for breakfast, you won’t appeal to consumers anymore.”
The following is the first of a four-part installment to provide operators with methods to increase foodservice traction in their stores. Here are some tips for amping up breakfast.
Offer all-day breakfast
The definition of breakfast is shifting. Fifty-two percent of consumers describe breakfast as any food eaten as their first meal in the morning—a 4% decrease compared to 2017, according to Technomic’s report. More than one-third define it by the types of food eaten. And 43% of consumers enjoy eating breakfast foods at nontraditional times of the day.
Some c-stores are already experimenting with all-day breakfast. TravelCenters of America, Westlake, Ohio, runs four Black Bear Diner restaurants in California, Texas and Arizona, all of which offer all-day breakfast. Menu items include Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs and a variety of omelets, pancakes, waffles and French toast.
But other chains aren’t quite there. CEFCO, Temple, Texas, has not offered all-day breakfast because its space for foodservice is too small, said Chris Postlewaite, former senior director of food and beverage for the chain. Its legacy stores range from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet and its new builds are more than 5,000 square feet, so space is tight.
“Our volume is driven by ready-to-eat, grab-and-go [food] in a relatively small footprint, so we don’t have the space to offer breakfast all day,” he said.
Technomic advises operators who offer expanded or all-day breakfast to craft smaller or different menus to minimize cannibalization and streamline operations.
More than a fifth (21%) of consumers strongly agree that they are ordering breakfast for delivery more often now than they were two years ago, according to Technomic. This includes 32% of 18- to 34-year olds. Eleven percent of convenience-store breakfast orders are for delivery, which outpaces quick-service restaurants (10%), coffee/beverage shops (10%) and full-service restaurants (10%).
“While delivery represents a smaller share of breakfast orders, expect these orders to grow, especially as younger consumers signal increasing usage of delivery at breakfast,” the report said. Wawa, based in Wawa, Pa., offers breakfast delivery at 75 locations via Uber Eats and Grubhub. Items include breakfast burritos, omelets, waffles, toasted bagels, breakfast bowls and Wawa’s flagship hoagie sandwiches.
Little General Stores Inc., Beckley, W.Va., delivers breakfast via DoorDash and Grubhub to avoid higher labor costs and liability risks, said April Sauls, director of retail food. Using third-party services has a nominal fee per transaction and provides new growth opportunity for the company, she said.
“Delivery is the epitome of convenience, so it’s definitely worth exploring in the c-store format,” Sauls said.
Promote plant-based fare
Nearly a fifth of consumers said they’re eating more plant-based breakfast foods now than they were a year ago, according to Technomic. Also, 29% of foodservice operators said they currently offer vegetarian or vegan breakfast options.
C-stores are starting with the p.m. dayparts for plant-based items. Rutter’s, York., Pa., introduced the Perfect Burger in 2019, while Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle’s GetGo Cafe & Market and Hawaiian retailer Minit Stop added the Impossible Burger. Breakfast is the natural next step, because younger consumers will especially seek plant-based options, according to Technomic.
“It will become more important to offer plant-based breakfast options to meet increasingly diverse diets and preferences, especially to draw in younger consumers who drive demand for these offerings,” the report said.
Chicago-based convenience store Foxtrot offers plant-based breakfast at its newest location, which opened in September 2019. Items include Elote Avocado Toast, starring the flavors of Mexican grilled corn; and The Fox Trap, a bagel sandwich with baked eggs, cheddar cheese, avocado, baby kale and zhoug, a spicy cilantro sauce.
Enhance the value
Seventy percent of consumers said it is extremely important to get good value for the money spent on their weekend breakfast, while 63% said the same for breakfast during the week, according to Technomic. Breakfast value outpaced all other categories, including price, quick preparation, portability and more.
Serving bigger portions can help c-store operators increase breakfast value, said Jessica Williams, consulting partner for b2b Solutions. This means increasing portion sizes as well as the size of each item during the cooking process, she said.
“People want to start their morning off feeling full,” Williams said.
Forty-eight percent of consumers said they were extremely satisfied with the food portions and prices at Rutter’s in third-quarter 2019, according to Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics. Rutter’s offers a Breakfast Basket meal, which includes a choice of meat or eggs with cheese, biscuits, French toast sticks and fries or hash browns for $6.19.
Thirty-six percent of consumers ages 18 to 34 said they would purchase breakfast from foodservice more often if there were more globally inspired options, according to Technomic. This can be done through limited-time offers (LTOs) or small twists on familiar favorites. A quarter of foodservice operators said they offer innovative breakfast options to drive sales.
But retailers must consider their demographics when deciding whether global options are worth exploring, Postlewaite said. “We have been successful with chorizo on the roller grill and empanadas specifically for breakfast,” he said. “We test items as LTOs for approximately eight weeks, and if they are successful, [they] become part of our full-time menu, which is why these two items are now offered every day.”
Promote healthy ingredients
Consumers ages 18 to 34 are more likely than their older counterparts to value breakfast options made with sustainable ingredients, while older consumers are more likely to purchase breakfast items labeled as premium. Although portable handheld options such as breakfast sandwiches, biscuits and bagels remain popular, consumer preference for doughnuts and pork is declining, which could be tied to healthy eating trends, Technomic said.
Sauls of Little General has seen customers cut down on sugar and starches and increase their protein intake. Pleasing them doesn’t require any specialty ingredients or extra inventory—a high-protein, low-carb breakfast such as a bowl with eggs, sausage and cheese may do the trick, she said.
“Something as simple as offering to replace the bread on a breakfast sandwich with egg patties is an easy switch that helps meet the needs of those more carb-conscious guests,” Sauls said.
One in four consumers strongly agree that eco-friendly coffee cups are important in their decision of where to purchase coffee, and that number rises to 34% among consumers 18 to 34 years old, according to Technomic. Furthermore, Gen Z consumers and millennials are willing to pay 60 cents more for coffee in an eco-friendly cup, while older generations are willing to pay 20 to 30 cents more.
Little General is actively looking to switch to a more eco-friendly paper option for its hot beverages and foodservice packaging, Sauls said. “There are so many more eco-friendly options available now than in recent years, making the switch easier and more cost effective than it was in years past,” she said. This has also occurred in quick-service restaurants. Starbucks is working to double the recycled content, recyclability and compostability of its cups and packaging by 2022, while Dunkin’ has said it will switch to double-walled paper coffee cups by 2020.