By Pat Pape, Contributing Editor.
Everyone knows that breakfast is important. Over the years, research has shown that adults who eat breakfast are generally healthier, weigh less and have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes as compared to those who skip the morning meal. And the benefits of breakfast apply to all ages.
Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital studied students who usually ate breakfast at school and discovered that they had higher math grades, superior standardized test scores, fewer absences and less hyperactivity than kids who didn’t. So aside from developing a breakfast program to keep up with your competitors, there is a very real demand for hearty foods at the morning daypart from adult consumers to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle.
But if you want to serve breakfast, you’d best be quick. Americans spend less time on breakfast than any other meal. According to The NPD Group, a global consumer information company, Americans average about 13 minutes downing the first meal of the day, and it’s likely that the food is consumed in a car.
Fast and Portable
Aaron Noveshen is the founder of The Culinary Edge, a San Francisco-based restaurant and foodservice consulting company that has worked with convenience store operators, as well as Jack in the Box and Starbucks, among others. He believes there are five strategic qualities for a winning convenience store breakfast program, and the most important one is speed. “People continue to be time starved,” he said.
The second quality is portability, which makes a.m. burritos an ideal addition to the morning menu. “The nice thing about a burrito is that it’s narrow and long and easier to eat one-handed than a breakfast sandwich,” Noveshen said. “If you’re driving, a breakfast burrito is even more portable than an English-muffin-based sandwich. And since you can make them using large or small tortillas, you can play with different price points.”
At Rutter’s Farm Stores, the York, Pa.-based retailer with 58 locations, the breakfast burrito—or breakfast wrap—continues to be a customer favorite, as does the stromboli, a transportable turnover made from pizza dough that is filled with cheese, meats and vegetables.
“They’re pretty hefty,” said Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice for the chain. “But the No. 1 sandwich we sell for breakfast, if I just look at units, is still the egg, sausage and cheese on a croissant.”
Value, Health and Indulgence
Today’s consumers want value whenever they shop. It is one of the qualities that builds loyalty and results in repeat visits. And when it comes to the foods they eat, “They want a choice of both healthy and indulgent items,” Noveshen said.
Currently, the healthier items on the c-store breakfast menu board are yogurt—particularly Greek yogurt; items made from egg whites, which some QSRs are adding to their breakfast sandwiches; and oatmeal.
At first glance, oatmeal doesn’t seem as impressive as a portable dish. “The nice thing about it is that you can pick it up and it has the ability to stay hot in its container,” Noveshen said. “It’s something you can bring to your desk if need be, as compared to a plate of pancakes.”
Convenience store operators have long recognized consumers’ demand for hearty, indulgent meals to help kick-start the day, and several recently rolled out new options.
In October, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, the Canastota, N.Y., chain with 80 locations in Upstate New York, began selling a steak, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, featuring shaved brisket, on a croissant.
“If you don’t want pork, what is your alternative in terms of meat?” asked Jack Cushman, vice president of foodservice for Nice N Easy. “We’ve just launched it, and it’s really good. It holds together nicely, and we use a special steak-house cheese that is designed to go with beef and complement the flavor. It’s more of a premier sandwich.”
For added variety, the chain also offers a new Italian sausage breakfast wrap with authentic Italian sausage, egg and cheese, plus green peppers and onions.
Kangaroo Express, the 1,160-store chain operated by The Pantry, Inc., has rolled out an exclusive new breakfast meal that pairs a Jimmy Dean sausage link with a biscuit shaped like a hot dog bun.
“Now guests will be able to start the morning with the classic taste of Jimmy Dean sausage and a flaky biscuit bun in a form they already know and love—the hot dog,” said Joe Venezia, senior vice president of operations for Kangaroo Express.
Shake and Bake
Corner Store, which is operated by Texas-based CST Brands, has several in-store bakeries where employees create hot, fresh pastries and doughnuts. In September, the chain launched the Jalapeño Cheddar Biscuit Breakfast Sausage Kolache under the company’s Fresh Choices label. A kolache is a Czech pastry featuring some type of filling, usually fruit.
“The foodservice team thought of the foods that they loved eating for breakfast, and the result was the Jalapeño Cheddar Biscuit Breakfast Sausage Kolache,” said Richard Poye, director of foodservice at CST Brands. “In the markets where we operate, people love the jalapeño cheddar combination. Most people enjoy a bit of adventure and are seeking fun food experiences. I don’t see spicy and unique flavor combinations fading from menus.”
For customers with a sweet tooth, 7-Eleven recently teamed with Pillsbury to market a new cinnamon roll, which can be heated and kept warm with other hot items, so customers can grab it and go. Several QSRs, including Arby’s, Blimpie Subs, Chick-fil-A, Hardee’s, Whataburger and McDonald’s offer some form of a cinnamon roll, which indicates the popularity of the classic pastry.
“Our goal in partnering with Pillsbury was to create an indulgent cinnamon roll that looked and tasted homemade,” said Kelly Buckley, vice president of fresh food innovation for 7-Eleven. “We expect the Pillsbury cinnamon roll will be a hot seller in the mornings when people are stopping by to grab a cup of coffee on their way to work or school.”
Crazy About Coffee
While food offerings are tempting, coffee is one of the main reasons morning customers shop at a convenience store or QSR. “People continue to be into coffee,” said Noveshen. “So having a meaningful coffee program and paying attention to it is really important in the convenience store space.”
For years, customers purchased indulgent c-store food items and grabbed a generic cup of coffee to go with it, “But that’s changing,” he said. “People have a more discerning taste for coffee. Offering unique items, like espresso-based drinks and things of that nature, are huge draws, and the technology is improving so it’s not so complicated and labor intensive as it once was. Having a great coffee program is a great driver for convenience stores. If I were going to invest in any area, I would invest in that before anything else.”
When it comes to breakfast, opportunities still exist. By combining superior coffee with a diverse selection of both healthy and indulgent foods, plus getting customers on their way quickly, convenience store owners can drive growth in their existing breakfast programs.
After all, everyone knows that the first meal of the day is the most important one.
“Breakfast has not slowed or even flattened,” said Weiner of Rutter’s. “It’s still a rising daypart.”
Sales Still Growing
Based on the information contained in Technomic’s “Outlook and Opportunities in Convenience Store Foodservice,” Tim Powell, the company’s director of convenience store programs, said he expects the roller grill to “continue to be a very important piece of equipment, particularly for those stores that are looking to evolve from beverage-only to food programs.” In that report, roller grill sales are estimated to account for roughly 10-15% of convenience foodservice sales and growing strong at breakfast.
When research firm Datassential interviewed 75 c-store decision-makers for its recent KeyNote Report on C-Store Foodservice about current offerings and opportunities, one-half of them said they currently have roller grills in their units. Of the remaining half, about one-quarter said they would consider adding roller grills.
The researchers also asked consumers, other than price, what would make you more likely to purchase a roller grill item from a c-store. Forty-eight percent of the respondents said “an indicator/timer showing how long the item has been on the roller grill” so they can gauge freshness.
As for getting customers to try new roller grill items in the morning, consumers indicated that samples and combo meals/special combo pricing were the most effective means of persuasion.