Jan 17, 2024 - Business

The hot meal for 2024? Breakfast

Illustration of a breakfast sandwich sporting sunglasses under a light

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Cereal is (largely) out, but hot honey sandwiches, cinnamon roll pancakes and wonuts — a waffle/doughnut hybrid — are in as more chefs try to lure us out for breakfast.

Why it matters: Fine dining restaurants, fast-food outlets and supermarkets are doubling down on breakfast and brunch in 2024, convinced they can squeeze more revenue out of society's most-skipped meal.

  • Wendy's has added English muffin sandwiches, Taco Bell is testing breakfast tots, and Burger King is piloting Grill'wich breakfast sandwiches — all giving market leader McDonald's a run for its money.
  • Breakfast-centered restaurants like First Watch, Waffle House and Eggs Up Grill have been expanding and rising in popularity, while IHOP has refurbished its menu.
  • In fine dining, chefs are reviving the special-occasion brunch — the better to get us to run up pricey bar tabs with spicy Bloody Marys and more.

Driving the news: Our post-pandemic dining habits have us eating meals earlier, relying more heavily on ready-to-eat snacks, trying to spend less money on meals, and seeking out less-processed foods — all trends that breakfast purveyors are trying to capitalize on.

  • New quick-serve offerings emphasize foods perceived as "healthy" that are easy-t0-grab — like super-trendy Korean street toast.
  • At the same time, fine dining chefs — who historically hold their noses at serving brunch — are reluctantly opening their restaurants in the morning, recognizing they can deliver showpiece meals to the power-breakfast crowd.

Plus: Companies "are placing breakfast catering orders to incentivize staff to return to offices, thank clients for their support or simply host a morning meal," per Nation's Restaurant News.

  • "Food service operators are seeing increases in orders for breakfast catering, and are answering demands for innovative breakfasts," Nation's Restaurant News said.
  • "From quick portable handhelds to elaborate pancake and waffle extravaganzas, these breakfast offerings are appearing in more offices and other workplace settings."

Of note: Starbucks, which edged reluctantly into breakfast foods by way of coffee, is doubling down on breakfast and the afternoon "daypart," to use the industry parlance for a mealtime.

  • "All of a sudden, it's a huge business, and we're selling a lot," Laxman Narasimhan, Starbucks' CEO, said of breakfast in a December conference call.
  • "What we see from our customers is, they would like all-day breakfast; they would like all-day snacking; they would like to find a way to attach our food to the beverages they buy."
  • After getting known for its egg sandwiches and Sous Vide Egg Bites — which have been profit dynamos — Starbucks is testing out Potato, Cheddar & Chive Bakes.

Between the lines: Breakfast has become the new (early) lunch, in part because the pandemic conditioned us to eating earlier.

What they're saying: Stubbornly high food prices and lingering recession fears will have Americans gravitating toward buying breakfast as a budget-conscious splurge in 2024, predicts Technomic, a food industry consultancy.

  • "On the weekends, brunch will become the new dinner thanks to its equally appealing social aspects, large adult beverage selections and lower average checks," Technomic says.

Where it stands: Brunch is undergoing a big revival in cities across the U.S., from Salt Lake City to Charlotte to Richmond.

  • Per Technomic: "Brunch will be a key occasion for sit-down restaurants — including all-day and nighttime-only iterations."
  • Remember when "let's do brunch!" became an obnoxious cliché? Well, neither do the younger people who are carrying it forward as a weekend social experience.
  • "One of the big advantages with brunch is that you get to bring the booze along," Stan Dorsey, executive chef of restaurant chain The Brass Tap, told FSR Magazine. "Every dollar that's spent at brunch is a dollar that we wouldn't have if our doors were closed, so it's definitely a big deal for franchisees."

Zoom in: Hot honey breakfast sandwiches are listed as one of 2024's top 10 trending foods in the National Restaurant Association's latest annual Culinary Forecast.

🥣 Let's talk cereal: We're eschewing it in favor of protein-laden portables like bars, shakes and frozen burritos, dampening the profits of Kellogg's, General Mills and Post Holdings, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Yes, but: Cereal makers are introducing products catering to our newfangled (and oldfangled) tastes.
  • Kellogg's just came out with Eat Your Mouth Off, a new brand of high-protein vegan cereal (in "fruity" and "chocolate").
  • A startup called Magic Spoon is trying to make healthier versions of childhood cereal favorites — "grain free," high protein, low sugar offerings in flavors like birthday cake and pumpkin spice.
Two Eat Your Mouth Off cereal boxes stand side by side.
New cereals from Kellogg's purport to be better for you. Photo courtesy of Kellogg's

By the numbers: Young people — particularly Gen Zers — are driving demand for takeout breakfasts.

  • 77% of Gen Z adults (ages 18-24) and 66% of millennials (ages 25-34) pick up fast-food breakfast at least 1-3 times a month, per CivicScience.
  • The J.M. Smucker Co. reports even higher numbers, saying that 67% of Gen Zers and 76% of millennials purchase breakfast foods or beverages at a food service location at least once a week.

Want to appeal to Gen Z breakfast eaters? Serve them a wonut (waffle/doughnut hybrid) or a biscuit/doughnut mashup, Smucker says.

  • They also like ethnic options, such as Mexican chilaquiles and Georgian khachapuri (cheese bread), as well as healthy options, such as yogurt parfaits and homemade oatmeal.

The bottom line: While quick-serve restaurants have clobbered one another for years for breakfast dominance, they're just starting to grasp how to appeal to the social media generation.

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