Consumer Trends | September 2012 | By Barney Wolf

Drive Time

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Just as biscuits expanded beyond the South, tortillas expanded beyond their cultural heritage to become a quick-service breakfast staple, especially at Mexican eateries. Taco John’s has served breakfast for more than a decade, and all of the chain’s traditional stores offered the daypart as of January. The morning menu consists of a variety of handheld burritos, led by the Breakfast Meat and Potato and the Scrambler burritos.

In August, Taco John’s launched a new line of breakfast items featuring chile verde, a popular Southwestern sauce. Two are portable: the Chile Verde Breakfast Stuffed Grilled Taco and the Chile Verde Breakfast Burrito.

Bagels, along with long-time breakfast staple doughnuts, make up the most popular breakfast starch menu items among Technomic’s top 500 restaurants. Before they were used in sandwiches, they were served by themselves or sliced with cream cheese and other toppings.

More than a third of consumers say they eat doughnuts for their away-from-home breakfast during the week, and 30 percent grab a breakfast pastry, such as a cinnamon roll, coffee cake, muffin, Danish, or scone, Technomic reports.

Scones have grown in popularity in the quick-service restaurant universe. They have been part of the breakfast line-up at Starbucks for some time and are also veteran menu items at fast-casual bakery cafes, such as Panera Bread, Atlanta Bread, and Le Pain Quotidien.

A scone is a small quick bread that is believed to have originated in Scotland but became popular in Britain. The cake typically is served with tea.

At Starbucks, however, it’s a morning treat. A customer favorite is the Blueberry Scone, a regular menu item along with the Petite Vanilla Bean Scone, which is flavored with vanilla extract and ground vanilla beans.

Starbucks also offers a variety of seasonal and regional scones, made with high-quality ingredients. These scones include cinnamon chip, cranberry orange, maple oat pecan, and pumpkin varieties, says spokeswoman Megan Adams.

At Le Pain Quotidien, the scones rotate seasonally. Some of these are buttermilk, cranberry orange, Parmesan and chive, and quince and spelt.

Pastries and other baked goods continue to be popular grab-and-go alternatives in an environment where consumers are increasingly seeking portable breakfast alternatives.

“The whole portability trend makes baked goods a perfect option for breakfast,” says Andrew Wezeman, category manager for sweet goods at Aryzta, a global food business that owns the Otis Spunkmeyer brand.

Otis Spunkmeyer offers pre-packaged and on-site baked options—including pastries and breakfast sandwiches—for restaurants, hotels, hospitals, universities, convenience stores, and other locations. Many items carry the Spunkmeyer or La Francaise Bakery names.

Wezeman says baked goods like miniature muffins are doing extremely well. “The smaller or individually wrapped ones make it easier to take the meal on the road,” he says.

Bundling a pastry or breakfast sandwich with coffee or other beverage “is a great way to make more money and provide more value to customers,” he adds.

One problem for health-conscious Americans is that many breakfast offerings carry high calorie, fat, sodium, or sugar levels. To counter that, a number of restaurants have developed better-for-you alternatives.

Dunkin’ Donuts developed a DDSMART menu, with low-calorie egg-white flatbread sandwiches, wraps, and baked goods. The turkey sausage sandwich, for instance, includes a turkey sausage patty, egg whites, spinach, and melted reduced-fat Cheddar on multigrain flatbread, all for less than 300 calories and nine grams of fat.

A variety of other quick serves, including bakery cafes and bagel-based restaurants, are also offering better-for-you sandwiches featuring either egg whites or bagel thins, such as those being sold at Bruegger’s Bagels and Manhattan Bagel.

Wendy’s new breakfast menu includes a range of breakfast sandwiches—made with artisan bread, muffins, biscuits, and burritos—but it also has a warm oatmeal bar, made with oats, blueberries, and cranberries. It allows oatmeal, which is now being served for breakfast at dozens of quick serves, to become more portable.

Although grab-and-go items may be the wave of the future, that doesn’t mean all of the traditional American plated favorites must go by the wayside.

McDonald’s succeeded with its McGriddle breakfast sandwich, which includes bacon, egg, and American cheese between two small maple-flavored pancakes. This summer, Jack in the Box released its Breakfast Waffle Sandwich. This limited-time offer features an egg, sausage patty, and American cheese between two maple syrup–flavored waffles.

San Francisco’s The Melt, a four-unit grilled cheese chain that started offering breakfast in June, created another unique throwback menu item.

“The hero of our breakfast,” says Paul Coletta, chief marketing officer, “is the Egg in a Hole” sandwich, a take on a favorite often called Eggs in a Frame or Eggs in a Basket.

The item starts with artisan sourdough bread with a hole cut in one of the two pieces. Then comes a fresh egg, Tillamook sharp Cheddar cheese, and free bacon on request. The price is $4.25, and it’s served within three minutes after it’s ordered.

“It’s designed to be fast, fresh, and portable,” Coletta notes. “We wanted to evoke morning memories, and we think we’ve done that.”