Consumer foodservice is often talked about in terms of nitty-gritty details, like menu items, popular new flavours, and décor; but ultimately, the industry is about bigger picture lifestyle trends. The most successful chains find ways to fit into consumers’ lives in ways that mesh seamlessly with existing behaviors and encourage the formation of newer ones, developing first-time visits into recurring habits that eventually become simply a part of what consumers do each day.
Breakfast has become a major part of the consumer foodservice growth story this year, as operators have looked to maximize sales in every possible daypart. It’s an eating occasion in which consumers have many reasons to want to dine out, and yet it’s one where most chains still see abundant room to grow their sales. In addition to flavour and menu item strategies that operators can use to maximize their appeal, a study of existing consumer habits—who, what, when, where and why consumers dine out for breakfast—can also guide a successful breakfast strategy, ultimately leading to higher share in an increasingly lucrative daypart.
Who’s dining out?
Breakfast lends itself particularly well to certain categories of foodservice, like fast food and street stalls/kiosks, because convenience is such a high priority. Busy consumers are often time-poor at the beginning of the day, rushing to work or to school, and foodservice gives them the opportunity to pick up a quick, inexpensive meal on the way. Breakfast meals are also often less expensive than those found in other dayparts due to the lower cost of ingredients to operators. Eggs, for example, are a much cheaper ingredient than beef, so main-dish breakfast items can be sold at lower prices while maintaining higher margins, offering a win-win for both the operator and the consumer.
Despite this, consumers report that breakfast is the daypart in which they are least likely to dine out frequently, according to a survey conducted in fifteen major markets by Euromonitor International. 60% of surveyed consumers in those markets dine out for dinner at least twice per week, while just about 40% do the same for lunch. In last place, closer to 30% of consumers dine out for breakfast at least twice a week, suggesting there are growth opportunities to be had if operators can find ways to encourage these consumers to form new morning habits.
In terms of demographics, the heaviest consumer foodservice breakfast users are men, many of whom cite foodservice as a way to avoid having to cook. More than 40% of men surveyed dine out for breakfast at least twice per week, as compared to just over 30% of women. By age, nearly 50% of those between the ages of 30 and 44 eat breakfast out at least twice per week, followed very close behind by those ages 15-29. Those older than 45 eat out far less frequently, dropping to 30%, and for those older than 60, the figure plunges to about 15%.
These figures speak to the priorities that most often drive consumers to dine out for breakfast: convenience and time. For students or young professionals, many of whom are time-poor and at least relatively cash-rich, a quick, filling foodservice breakfast holds high appeal. Unsurprisingly, those with full-time jobs or those who are in school also dine out for breakfast most often, at just over 50% of full-time workers being twice-weekly breakfast diners, and slightly less than that for students. Less than 20% of stay-at-home or retired consumers dine out regularly for breakfast, further underscoring what is—and more importantly, what is not—driving global breakfast demand.
When do we eat?
Perhaps even more so than most other dayparts, the timing of consumers’ breakfast is based on distinct patterns of behavior that are influenced by cultural factors unique to various countries. In China, for example, the breakfast daypart is highly concentrated between six a.m. and nine a.m., with a full 73% of those consumers who do dine out for breakfast making their purchase between seven and eight a.m. Among all fifteen countries, the entirety of the breakfast daypart spanned a much larger part of the day, with as many as 5-6% of breakfast buying consumers beginning as early as 5 a.m. in Indonesia, France and Japan.
The tail end of breakfast also varied by market, extending as late as noon in Mexico, with 16%of Mexicans buying between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. China and Indonesia also both show a brief but highly concentrated second wave of breakfast purchases during the 12 p.m. hour, illustrating a valuable opportunity for operators in those market to drive additional sales during that time. In Colombia, Indonesia and Turkey, on the other hand, breakfast purchases were most concentrated between fairly standard hours, but all three also saw a less conventional wave of breakfast purchases between 7 and 8 p.m., made by shift workers and other consumers who don’t keep conventional hours.
While consumer habits in those countries show a flexibility that can benefit operators, other markets consumers follow a more clearly regimented daily schedule. In Russia, for example, no hour outside of the 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. window experienced more than 4% of breakfast purchases, and in Germany the high-frequency period was even slimmer, occurring only between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. Knowledge of these very specific, market-based lifestyle characteristics can be incredibly useful to operators, dictating when outlets should open in the morning and close at night, when breakfast menus should be served, and when other daypart-specific menu items should be promoted instead.
What’s for breakfast?
The kinds of foods consumers typically eat for breakfast, as well as the type of outlets they visit to purchase them, also varies widely. A full 80% of consumers in Brazil prefer to purchase breakfast from a bakery, the result of a long-standing and deeply-ingrained culture of inexpensive local outlets known as padarias. In Spain, breakfasts are more typically purchased from coffee shops, and US consumers strongly prefer fast food. In Indonesia, the majority of consumers prefer to purchase breakfast from street stalls and kiosks, continuing a long-standing tradition of quick on-the-go meals on the way to work or school.
Notably, some typical breakfast items are also purchased relatively frequently throughout the day. For example, snacks, tea and coffee, items that are often considered breakfast goods, are purchased relatively consistently throughout a variety of dayparts. In France, Germany and the UK, these items are typically purchased in two concentrated waves during the morning and late afternoon, whereas China and Mexico both have a more defined evening snacking daypart that falls between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. This distribution of snacking times speaks to the general rhythms of life in these markets, patterns operators can use to tap into existing habits and tailor the dining experience to better resonate with local dining culture.
All of these data can be used to drive more successful consumer foodservice strategies, starting with what consumers are ultimately looking for in a dining-out breakfast. As evidenced by the heaviest users across all categories, speed and convenience are highly prioritized, and therefore takeaway service is a must. Operators can cater to this need by featuring easily portable items that can be served in minimal time, leaving lengthy prep methods—such as gourmet coffee brewing techniques—for other snacking dayparts. Similarly, the most successful breakfast items are easy to eat on-the-go, including hand-held pastries, specialty beverages and breakfast sandwiches that incorporate a full meal into a neatly wrapped package.
Breakfast items should also be relatively inexpensive, encouraging consumers to perceive the purchase as a small way to treat themselves to kick off a busy work or school day. Egg dishes and specialty beverages with inherently high margins allow operators to compete at lower price points while maintaining profitability. Items like coffee, in particular, are seen in some markets as a breakfast must-have, and an appealing coffee offering can translate to higher breakfast sales among all menu items simply by drawing in more traffic and positioning a brand as a breakfast destination. In some markets, coffee demand also continues throughout the rest of the day, suggesting that investing in a premium coffee platform can pay dividends across a wide range of dayparts.
It also follows that breakfast strategies should be tailored specifically to individual market preferences. Those markets where consumers are already dining out for breakfast very frequently, such as China or Indonesia where the majority of those surveyed buy a foodservice breakfast at least twice per week, offer an opportunity to take greater share of daypart demand by making their breakfast offering more appealing to local palates. In those where dining out for breakfast is not already common, such as Japan where the majority of consumers report never buying foodservice breakfasts, there are opportunities to encourage a change of habit. McDonald’s has made growing breakfast traffic in Japan a priority in recent years, in an effort to grow average checks in a foodservice market that has seen a slowdown in overall growth. Most recently, the company launched a new campaign promoting its new breakfast offerings, including a Sausage and Egg McMuffin bundled together with a drink for 300 yen (US$3.30). The campaign is designed to encourage busy consumers to indulge in an inexpensive breakfast treat, as well as to draw breakfast traffic away from Japan’s ubiquitous convenience stores.
Finally, operators can tailor their strategies specifically to local customs regarding the length of the typical workday and the day’s meal and snack-time rhythm. Ultimately, just like consumer foodservice as a whole, the key to growing breakfast traffic is an understanding not just of the target market but also of its daily habits. The most successful chains can influence not just what consumers eat, but also when, why and how—and with that influence can come higher sales and a higher share of the global market.